Monday, December 21, 2009
~Movie Review Monday~' LA PASSION de JEANNE d'ARC'(1928)
ENGLISH TITLE: THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC
DIRECTED BY: CARL THEODORE DREYER
STARRING: MARIA FALCONETTI
I know, this is an odd movie review choice for my lighthearted and style-obsessed blog. But, bear with me.
A few years ago, I heard this movie touted as containing the 'best female performance in history' by its star, Maria Falconetti. Since the film is from 1928, that really impressed me and I watched it right away. Another point of interest about this film is that it was Maria Falconetti's first and last...she never made another.
Most of the time, I am disappointed when something is built up as the 'best' of anything. The best creme' brulee'? meh. The best song? No way. The best new designer? C'mon. But this time, I must say that if Maria Falconneti's performance as Joan of Arc is not the BEST ever, it is definitely AMONG the best. Let me see if I can put it into words:
Have you ever been watching someone fall apart from a distance? You cannot hear them or read their lips even. But you see their face crumple, their eyes fill, their lips tremble as they try to get the words out. You feel guilty in your voyeurism but still...you don't want to look away. What could possibly have happened? Regardless of what the problem is, it has obviously turned their life- for the time being- upside down. Now imagine that you do know what is wrong. That somehow, just by their expression, you were able to read their thoughts. Their whole story is in their eyes. And you sit by, mezmerized in their power.
This is, in effect, how I felt about Maria Falconetti's performance. I felt that even if I had not seen any of her surroundings or known who she was portraying-I would still have somehow known. She is able to convey the broad spectrum of emotions that Joan of Arc underwent thru the course of her trial-of determination, grief, adoration, fear...simply by the use of her glorious eyes. My throat tightened as I watched her swipe tears away, swat a fly distractingly, bite her parched lips, wipe her runny nose with the back of her hand, and became a living, breathing part of history. The dialogue cards were actually unnecessary, as strange as that may seem.
The story follows only the trial of Joan. We do not see her visions, her communication w/ the Dauphine, her march into battle. We see her before the judges, we see her in prison, and we see her die. It is not a light or joyous movie by any stretch of the imagination...not even once does it attempt to pull the viewer out of the doldrums. But where is rests-it accomplishes volumes.
The direction by Carl Dreyer was ages ahead of its time. He used no make up, retaining a gritty and realistic feel throughout. It is this particular area that makes the film so timeless and the date of 1928 almost incomprehensible. Also, the movie is almost entirely shot in closeup. The different faces (principally that of Falconetti) are the story. And such wonderful faces were chosen. The characters are completely captivating from the outset, based as they are on looks alone. We despise the bishops and judges, love those who are sympathetic to her plight, and mourn for Joan as she bears it all. The realism is at times unsettling, such as when an arm is pierced for the customary 'bleeding', a nursing baby pulls away from his mother's moist nipple to watch the execution, and Joan's head is shaved on camera as a final insult.
I recommend this to anyone-but especially to those who are intrigued by this story, great acting, awe-inspiring filmmaking, or the strength of will.
Style Factor: Not important. However, since this is a style blog-I'll mention something that I think is interesting about the aesthetic aspect of this film. No, there are no glamorous costumes or hairstyles to speak of...but something that does stay w/ us is the power of a beautiful face. Maria may not be glamorous or made up, but her face is unforgettable, showing that strength of character and heartfelt expressions are an equally important part of one's appearance.
My rating: 10/10