The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) is a beautiful silent film that collects some of the most haunting images of facial expressions. The actors were not allowed to wear make up unlike the other silent films, also made possible by the newly developed panchromatic film that could capture a natural skin tone, making it a unique work from the silent era that stands the test of time.
It was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and starring Renée Jeanne Falconetti. Very few people had actually seen it prior to 1981 because the original print was destroyed after a fire. Dreyer himself died believing the original was lost forever. In 1981, a complete print of Dreyer’s original version was rediscovered in the closet of a Danish janitor in an Oslo mental institution. It is not known how the reels ended up in the institution. Some facts are stranger than fiction.
Cinematically, The Passion of Joan of Arc was not constructed with camera movements or the conventional movie language, but from a series of still shots that emphasize the facial expressions of the actors. Every shot is so beautifully framed that the stills deserve a spot in an art museum.
Watching this film again now I feel like appreciating a piece of history, as if a widely believed extinct animal being discovered alive again. The performance of Falconetti alone is worth your two hours.
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