The Passion of Joan of Arc

Historical Background
During the Hundred Year’s War (1328-1440) between France and England, vast areas of France, including Burgundy and the South-West, were occupied and devastated by the English.

Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) lived from 1412 to 1431. She was the daughther of modest farmers and very pious. At the age of 13 she heard celestial voices telling her to deliver France from the English occupation. She managed to convince the future King Charles VII to give her a small army. She succeeded in freeing Orleans from the English siege, but not Paris. In 1430 she was captured by Burgundians faithful to the English and sold to the English.

The English declared her to be a witch and handed her over to an ecclesiastical jury presided by a bishop. They concluded that she was heretical and had her burned alive at the stake on May 30, 1431.

In 1456 (25 years later), she was solemnly "rehabilitated". In 1909 she was "beatified", and in 1920 declared a "saint".

Literary Background
The life and death of Joan of Arc have inspired many literary works, such as

bulleta poem by Christine of Pisan (1429),
bulleta tragedy by Schiller (1801),
bulleta dramatic trilogy by Charles Peguy (1897)
bulleta play by G. B. Shaw (1923)
bulleta play by J. Anouilh (1953), and
bulletan oratorio by Paul Claudel with music by Honegger (1938).

The Movie
Many movies have been made about the life and death of Joan of Arc, but none is as compelling and impressive as "The Passion of Joan of Arc" by Carl Dreyer. It shows only the trial and the death at the stake. Joan opposes only intelligence and humility to the deviousness and narrow-mindedness of the judges. She yields under the threat of torture, but retracts her confession later. People watching her torture revolt, convinced that a saint has been burned. The English disperse the crowd.

What makes this film so impressive?

bulletExtreme stylisation, for instance torture wheel, draw-bridge
bulletFrequent use of close-ups, for instance to show eye movements and skin blemishes
bulletAmazing authenticity by actress Renee Falconetti whose performance is staggering. The actress had her hair cut, she insisted that the actors really spit on her. [She was so exhausted by the experience that she never acted in another film.]
bulletThe other actors are excellent too, adding a spiritual depth to this movie that none of the other movies about Joan of Arc have.

Website designed and maintained by Barbara Vigano, Prof. emeritus of French, Mt. San Antonio College