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Joan of Arc at BSPAC: An Film Experience in Conviction


Last updated 1/28/2020 at 10:30am

In terms of “sticking to one’s convictions,” Joan of Arc is a tough act to follow. The 1928 silent film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” was shown at BSPAC on Wed. Jan 16 to a nearly full house, complimented by (name of orchestra/vocal ensemble here), a small live orchestra and several vocalists. It was dramatic and compelling, not only in terms of Black & White filmmaking and theatrical/dramatic techniques back in the day, but also as a story of a young French woman about 19 years of age who refused, after initial capitulation to her priest-tormentors, to denounce her conviction that she was a messenger from God, and for her conviction she was burned alive at the stake.

It’s only a guess as to how many of us would have made that choice, given the known end result, and even subsequent martyrdom and sainthood, but one in a million might be close. And who could have sat through nearly two hours of this silent film (no intermission but occasionally subtitled to good effect) without the fine music and vocal accompaniment? We’re used to a musical score to go with a movie, so that worked out well.

All but one of the original nitrate-based film stock has survived, and this is it. The full transcript of Joan of Arc’s trial is also preserved, and some of it was used in the film.

With the use of frequent extreme close-ups on faces of the characters, Danish film director Carl Theodor Dryer maximizes their dramatic impacts and emotional states of mind in the Black & White format. I was, however, a little disappointed in the one-note performance of lead actress Renee Jeanne Falconetti, who played the role with appropriate angst but repeated that same level of angst a little too often, and with minimal dialogue in response to priest-judges’ relentless haranguing. Joan of Arc was a fighter in real life, having led the French army to victory over the British in the Hundred Years War. While her facial expressions depicted in the film were real and unpretentious, I was expecting a bit more fire in her belly, performance-wise.

But that young woman, definitely showed her passion and conviction beyond anything us mere mortals would take on today. Her sainthood is well-deserved, and this film was worth experiencing.

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