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A reconstruction of the trial of Joan of Arc (based entirely on the transcripts of the real-life trial), concerning Joan's imprisonment, interrogation and final execution at the hands of the English, filmed in a spare, low-key fashion. Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
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"The Passion of Joan of Arc" vs "The Trial of Joan of Arc"
1. This is a brief review of Carl Theodor Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc" and Robert Bresson's "The Trial of Joan of Arc".
2. What's immediately apparent when comparing these two films, is how focused Dreyer is on showing the opposing subjectivities at Joan's trial. Who was the chief architect of her martyrdom? The English invaders who imprisoned her? The French clergy who tried and condemned her? God? The girl herself? The people who identified with her and gave her martyrdom political purpose?
3. Dreyer always keeps Joan isolated within the frame, plumbing a solitary soul's duress under persecution.
4. Dreyer deftly shows the transformation of the witnessing masses from a crazy mob into a responsible voice of moral protest.
5. Maria Falconetti, who plays Joan in Dreyer's film, is given some of the most celebrated close ups in cinema history. What became of her? One legend claims that she so identified with her one major film role that she ended up in an insane asylum, convinced she was Joan.
6. Unlike Dreyer's film, Bresson's is filled with non professional actors. His is a dry, almost distant film.
7. Whilst Dreyer's film oozes grand emotions, Bresson's is modern, minimalist, intellectual and existential.
8. Bresson avoids the circus and stresses Joan's solitude. His Joan is defiant in court, but privately she is at a loss, constantly praying for answers.
9. Dreyer's Joan (a kind of instinctual folk hero) acts according to her feelings, while Bresson's acts according to her conscience, which fluctuate as she broods.
10. Bresson's Joan is actually reluctant to embrace martyrdom. She's in over her head, unsure, confused.
11. In Dreyer's film, the audience becomes both Joan and the masses supporting her. In Bresson's, however, the audience is positioned as an outsider. We're the prison guards, the jailers, the priests, always "seperated" from Joan (by holes, by walls, by bars), the girl constantly kept at a distance.
12. Bresson's film is filled with visual echoes. Joan's hands, chained across a bible, resemble a pair of wings. At her execution, her hands, now tied behind her back, reappear in closeup. When doves appear, shot from below, we are reminded of Joan's "winged" hands to haunting effect. The point: an image of confinement has become one of ultimate liberation.
13. Bresson's film begins with two sounds: the ringing of church bells, followed by a drum roll. It ends only with a drum roll. Joan silences the Church that has put her to death.
14. Bresson has criticised Dreyer's film on numerous occasions, stating that he found the acting "grotesque". He's right. Joan was a hardened warrior who fought with men. Why then does Dreyer portray her in such a melodramatic fashion?
15. Bresson's film abounds with delicious ambiguities. Was Joan really receiving messages from God? Is she deluded? Was she a crazy freedom fighter or holy saint? Was she simply a 15th century terrorist, opposing the English occupying army and the tents of the Catholic Church?
8.9/10 - "The Trial of Joan of Arc"
7.9/10 - "The Passion of Joan of Arc"
Many find Bresson's approach to film-making to be off-putting, but I prefer his minimalist style. His films possess an austerity, a sense of intelligence, which Dreyer only hit upon with his later features.
Worth one viewing.
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