• Saw it for probably the 5th time in January 2018—6th time in January 2020
  • It’s a film I’m going to try to get to every year or so. It’s formally flawless and stylistically audacious at the same time. It’s one of the 15-20 films I think you could legitimately call the greatest film of all-time at this point.
  • Shockingly enough (he’s known for taking a lot of time between his work)- this was Dreyer’s 9th film—he has 9 from 1919 to 1928—he’d slow down considerably after this and would only have 4 more over the rest of his life (36 years)
I’m not 100% sure it isn’t the greatest film of all-time and I only feel that way about 4-5 films right now
  • The only of those 8 films from Dreyer made prior to this that I’ve seen is Master of the House (1925). It is not good. Preachy and offers almost nothing stylistically- so this is really, as far as I know, his birth as an artist (I think the rest of his films prior to Passion of Joan of Arc aside from Master of the House were lost)
  • He was big on non-professional actors and stripping away all overacting and emotion—clearly he’s a massive influence on Bresson (The Trial of Joan of Arc Bresson made in 1962- not nearly as good) who did the same thing and also had films on similar subject matter and theme
  • No makeup uses- unheard of in 1928
  • Maria Falconetti’s second performance- her last performance
  • Dreyer and Falconetti didn’t invent the close-up (Griffith and Gish really did that) from an artistic standpoint but this is damn close. It’s searing imagery and one of the greatest performances of all-time without a doubt
It’s searing imagery in the close-ups of Falconetti– each image a picture– and her work is one of the greatest performances of all-time without a doubt
  • Ethereal suffering
  • Ebert references Bordwell’s book on the film—apparently there’s a study on the disorienting cuts and he does a breakdown (I can only imagine- how awesome)—there’s true theme and variation in the choices by Dreyer- many don’t carry directly over- either way it’s a masterpiece built, amongst other things, in the editing room
  • It’s also a masterpiece in front of the camera (performances, mise-en-scene) and with the camera- there are many rolling tracking shots. Formal brilliance.
are there 10 better single images in cinema imagery? Dreyer’s control and overwhelming beauty of mise-en-scene on display here
  • There are really no establishing shots- at least in the court room or the prison (there are a few I guess in the gorgeous exterior work in the second half of the film on the way to the execution)
look at the shapes and use of architecture here- this could be from Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – expressionism and mise-en-scene at it’s finest
  • Film was lost until 1978
  • Apparently Dreyer editing the film from current footage in post when he had some issues with money—it took him a year and a half to complete in the 1920’s and very few artists (Griffith, von Stroheim) took that long
  • the mise-en-scene is masterful. The concave shapes, the crosses, and in a few scenes- gorgeous displays of blocking and framing
the mise-en-scene is masterful. The concave shapes, the crosses, and in a few scenes- gorgeous displays of blocking and framing
  • I look forward to continuing my Dreyer study but I don’t remember it to be that closely connected stylistically with his other work. There are hints of it in Vampyr but this is closer to Eisenstein (I mean the battle sequence in the last 10 minutes of Passion of Joan of Arc has to make you think of Potemkin and the art of editing) in most ways than Murnau (which Dreyer’s Vampyr feels more akin to)
  • Authenticity in the text is a goal here- we have the script taken from actual text from the trial
  • The opening track is a stunner of a shot (one that would be repeated regularly) through the crowd at the trial
  • It could just be me but Falconetti looks a little like the profit kid (Jeremy Blackman) from Magnolia. Normally I wouldn’t think anything of it but knowing Magnolia and PT Anderson I wouldn’t put it past him
  • Characterizations enhanced with grotesque faces, fat, warts, moles, hair in nose, padded fat suits on the judges-
Characterizations enhanced with grotesque faces, fat, warts, moles, hair in nose, padded fat suits on the judges-
  • Dollies in and out quickly on the guards to show emotion and hostility
  • Falconetti is unreal with those unblinking eyes
  • Reoccurring tracking shots of judges
  • It’s a top 5 edited film of all-time
  • The head judge’s performance is underrated- never heard him motioned
The head judge’s performance is underrated- never heard him motioned
  • Stark white walls with detailed mise-en-scene (crosses mainly) placed sparingly and strategically throughout—the walls also draw you to the performance
Dreyer uses the walls a canvas— shapes, faces, distances– there is white and grey because of the architecture here
  • Simple but formally perfect
  • Variation on the angles—profile, from underneath—the low angle-work with the camera predates Welles—this is a major breakthrough for me on this film (after 5 viewings here)
Variation on the angles—profile, from underneath—the low angle-work with the camera predates Welles—this is a major breakthrough for me on this film (after 5 viewings here)
  • It’s a symphonic repetition in the editing
  • There are countless inventive shots- images that belong on a wall in a museum too many to mention- over 100 in an 80 minute film
There are countless inventive shots- images that belong on a wall in a museum too many to mention- over 100 in an 80 minute film
  • Disorienting breaking of the rules of eyelines—gives to her mythic quality and state of mind
  • Both stark (objects in the frame in front of  blank slate) and expressionistic (creative angles, eyelines, ordering and sequencing of the images)
  • Worms in skull
  • Hill with a cross
  • The entire film is form and aesthetic choices—it’s worth noting that the first 15-20 minutes are essentially a court-room scene with questions and dialogue back and forth. This type of scene, going into the 21st century 100 years later, is almost always done in such an uncinematic way— Dreyer makes a masterpiece of back and forth dialogue.
  • Painful to watch hair cut scene
  • Another stunner shot is the overhead upside down shot of soldiers marching towards the end
Another stunner shot is the overhead upside down shot of soldiers marching towards the end
  • The rolling tracking shots of the sad crowd at her death perfectly mirrors the opening of the judges shouting at her
  •  massive masterpiece—I’m not 100% sure it isn’t the greatest film of all-time and I only feel that way about 4-5 films right now