The Passion of Joan of Arc (FrenchLa Passion de Jeanne d'Arc) is a 1928 silent French film based on the actual record of the trial of Joan of Arc. The film was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti as Joan. It is widely regarded as a landmark of cinema,[1] especially for its production, Dreyer's direction and Falconetti's performance, which has been described as being among the finest in cinema history. The film summarizes the time that Joan of Arc was a captive of England.[2] It depicts her trial and execution.

Danish film director Dreyer was invited to make a film in France by the Société Générale des Films and chose to make a film about Joan of Arc due to her renewed popularity in France. Dreyer spent over a year researching Jon of Arc and the transcripts of her trial before writing the script. Dreyer cast stage actress Falconetti as Joan in her only major film role. Falconetti's performance and devotion to the role during filming have become legendary among film scholars.

The film was shot on one huge concrete set modeled on medieval architecture in order to realistically portray the Rouen prison. The film is known for its cinematography and use of close-ups. Dreyer also didn't allow the actors to wear make-up and used lighting designs that made the actors look more grotesque.

The film was controversial before its release due to conservative French nationalists being skeptical of the Danish Dreyer making a film about a French historical icon. Dreyer's final version of the film was cut down due to pressure from the Archbishop of Paris and from government censors. For several decades it was released and viewed in several re-edited versions that attempted to restore Dreyer's final cut. In 1981 a film print of Dreyer's final cut of the film was discovered in a mental institution in OsloNorway and re-released.

Despite the objections and cutting of the film by clerical and government authorities, it was a critical success when first released and has consistently been considered one of the greatest films ever made since 1928. It has been praised and referenced to by many film directors and musicians.


 [hide*1 Plot


After having led numerous military battles against the English during the Hundred Years' War, Joan of Arc is captured near Compiegne and eventually brought to RouenNormandy to stand trial for heresy by French clergymen loyal to the English.

On May 30, 1431 Joan is interrogated by the French clerical court. Her judges try to make her say something that will discredit her claim or shake her belief that she has been given a mission by God to drive the English from France, but she remains steadfast. One or two of them, believing that she is indeed a saint, support her. The authorities then resort to deception. A priest reads a false letter to the illiterate prisoner supposedly from King Charles VII of France, telling her to trust in the bearer. When that too fails, Joan is taken to view the torture chamber, but the sight, though it causes her to faint, does not intimidate her.

When she is threatened with burning at the stake, she finally breaks and allows a priest to guide her hand in signing a confession. However, she soon recants and is publicly executed.[3]



Background and writing[edit]Edit

After the success of Master of the House in Denmark, Dreyer was invited to make a film in France by the Société Gėnėrale des Films and proposed a film about either Marie AntoinetteCatherine de Medici orJoan of Arc. He later claimed that the final decision on the film's subject matter was determined by drawing matches. Joan of Arc was in the news in France after World War I, having been canonised as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in 1920 and adopted as one of the patron saints of France.[4] Dreyer spent over a year and a half researching Joan for the film, and the script was based on the original transcripts of Joan's trial and execution, condensing 29 interrogations over the course of 18 months into one scene.[5] The transcripts of the trial had been published in 1921 by editor Pierre Champion and were the main basis of Dreyer's script. The rights to Joseph Delteil's 1925 book on Joan of Arc were also purchased for the production, but nothing from Delteil's book was used in the finished film. However, at the film's premiere Delteil was partially credited as a source.[6]


This was star Renée Jeanne Falconetti's second and last film role,[7] despite achieving iconic status in film history almost immediately. Falconetti always preferred the theater to film and never understood the positive reaction to the film.[8] Dreyer went to see Falconetti backstage at a performance of Victor Margueritte's La Garçonne,[8] a comedic play that she was appearing in. Dreyer wasn't initially impressed with her, but when he went to see her again the next day he "felt there was something in her which could be brought out; something she could give, something, therefore, I could take. For behind the make-up, behind the pose and that ravishing modern appearance, there was something. There was a soul behind that facade."[9] Dreyer asked her to do some screen tests the next day, but without any make-up. During the tests, Dreyer "found in her face exactly what I wanted for Joan: a country girl, very sincere, but also a woman of suffering."[10] Dreyer then told Falconetti about the film and her role in great detail and Falconetti agreed to star in the film, but secretly hoped that she would not have to cut her hair or go without make-up.[8]

Jean Renoir praised her performance and said "That shaven head was and remains the abstraction of the whole epic of Joan of Arc." She was famously treated harshly by Dreyer, who had a reputation for being a tyrannical director. Dreyer would always clear the set whenever Falconetti needed to act in a particularly emotional or important scene, allowing her to focus without any distractions. Dreyer often had difficulties explaining himself to Falconetti and was known to turn bright red and begin stammering when passionately directing her.[11] Dreyer had stated that a director "must be careful never to force his own interpretation on an actor, because an actor cannot create truth and pure emotions on command. One cannot push feelings out. They have to arise from themselves, and it is the director's and actor's work in unison to bring them to that point."[5] Later in post-production, Falconetti was the only cast member to watch the rushes and stay involved in the film while it was being edited.[8] According to film critic Roger Ebert:

For Falconetti, the performance was an ordeal. Legends from the set tell of Dreyer forcing her to kneel painfully on stone and then wipe all expression from her face—so that the viewer would read suppressed or inner pain. He filmed the same shots again and again, hoping that in the editing room he could find exactly the right nuance in her facial expression.[12]

Among the other cast members was French playwright Antonin Artaud as the monk Massieu. Artaud later stated that the film was meant to "reveal Joan as the victim of one of the most terrible of all perversions: the perversion of a divine principle in its passage through the minds of men, whether they be Church, Government or what you will."[13]


[1][2]Falconetti in a scene from the film. Dreyer dug holes in the set to get the low camera angles seen here.

What especially stood out at the time when The Passion of Joan of Arc was made was the film's camera-work and emphasis on the actors' facial features. Dreyer shot a great deal of the film in close-up, stating that "There were questions, there were answers- very short, very crisp...Each question, each answer, quite naturally called for a close-up... In addition, the result of the close-ups was that the spectator was as shocked as Joan was, receiving the questions, tortured by them."[5] Dreyer also did not allow his actors to wear makeup,[14] the better to tell the story through their expressions—this choice was made possible through use of the recently developed panchromatic film,[12] which recorded skin tones in a naturalistic manner. Dreyer often shot the priests and Joan's other interrogators in high contrast lighting, but then shot Joan in soft, even lighting.[15] Rudolph Maté's high-contrast cinematography also allowed the details in people's faces, including warts and lumps, to be grotesquely visible. Dreyer also used many low angle shots of Joan's persecutors in order to make them seem more monstrous and intimidating, and several holes were dug on the set for the camera to get the appropriate angle, causing the crew to nickname him "Carl Gruyére".[5] Dreyer also shot the film "from the first to the last scene ... in the right order."[14]

Art Direction[edit]Edit

The film had one of the most expensive sets ever built for a European film up to that time.[16] Dreyer was given a seven million franc budget. He constructed an enormous octagonal concrete set to depict Rouen Castle. Production designers Hermann Warm and Jean Hugo were inspired by medieval miniatures for their designs, adding unnatural angles and perspectives to add to Joan's emotional state of mind.[5] They also relied on medieval manuscripts with accurate architectural drawings, such as John Mandeville's Livre de Merveilles.[17] The huge set was built as one complete, interconnecting structure instead of in separate locations. The castle had towers in all four corners with concrete walls running along the sides. Each wall was 10 centimeters thick so that they could support the weight of actors, technicians and equipment.[17] A functional drawbridge was also built into one of the walls. Inside the walls were small houses, the courtyard where the burning took place and a cathedral. The entire set was painted pink so that it would appear grey in the black and white film and contrast against the white sky above it. Despite all of the detail put into the set, only segments of it are ever visible in the film,[18] which later angered the film's producers since so much money was spent on the set. Hermann Warm's original models for the film's set are currently stored at the Danish Film Institute Archives.[17]

Release and different versions[edit]Edit

The Passion of Joan of Arc debuted on April 21, 1928 at the Palads Teatret cinema in Copenhagen. After a few private screenings, it finally premiered in Paris on October 25, 1928 at the Cinema Marivaux. The film was delayed because of persistent efforts of many French nationalists who objected to the fact that Dreyer was not Catholic and not French and to the then-rumored casting of Lillian Gish as Joan. As early as January 1927, Jean-Jose Frappa said that "whatever the talent of the director (and he has it)...he cannot give us a Joan of Arc in the true French tradition. And the American 'star'...cannot be our Joan, wholesome, lively, shining with purity, faith, courage and patriotism. To let this be made in France would be a scandalous abdication of responsibility."[19] Before its French premiere, several cuts were made by order of the Archbishop of Paris and by government censors. Dreyer had no say in these cuts and was angry about them. Later that year on December 6, a fire at UFA studios in Berlin destroyed the film's original negative and only a few copies of Dreyer's original cut of the film existed. Dreyer was able to patch together a new version of his original cut using alternate takes not initially used. This version was also destroyed in a lab fire in 1929. Over the years, it became hard to find copies of Dreyer's second version and even harder to find copies of the original version.[19]

It was re-released in 1933 in a 61 minute version without any intertitles and including a new narration by radio star David Ross. In 1951, Joseph-Marie Lo Duca found a copy of the negative of Dreyer's second version in the Gaumont Studios vaults. Lo Duca then made several significant changes, including a new musical score by BachAlbinoni and Vivaldi, removing many of the intertitles and replacing some with subtitles. Lo Duca's version was the only available one for many years. Dreyer objected to this version and said that it was in bad taste.[19]

The next version of the film was made by Arnie Krogh of the Danish Film Institute. Krogh cut together scenes and sequences from several different available prints to attempt to create a version that was as true to Dreyer's original cut as possible.[19]

Rediscovery of original version[edit]Edit

The original version was lost for decades after a fire destroyed the master negative and only variations of Dreyer's second version were available. In 1981, an employee of the Dikemark Sykehus mental institution in Oslo found several film canisters in a janitor's closet that were labeled as being The Passion of Joan of Arc.[1] The canisters were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute where they were first stored for three years until finally being examined. It was then discovered that they were Dreyer's original cut prior to government or church censorship. There were never any records of the film being shipped to Oslo, but film historians believe that the then director of the institution may have requested a special copy since he was also a published historian.[19]

Reception and legacy[edit]Edit

On its initial release, it was an unprecedented critical success and immediately called a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it was also a huge financial flop and caused the Société Générale to cancel its contract with Dreyer after the failure of this film and of Abel Gance's Napoléon. Dreyer angrily accused the Société Générale of mutilating the film so as to avoid offending Catholic viewers and sued them for breach of contract. The lawsuit went on until the fall of 1931, during which time Dreyer was unable to make another film.[5]

The New York Times film reviewer Mordaunt Hall raved:

... as a film work of art this takes precedence over anything that has so far been produced. It makes worthy pictures of the past look like tinsel shams. It fills one with such intense admiration that other pictures appear but trivial in comparison.[20]

Of the star, he wrote, "... it is the gifted performance of Maria Falconetti as the Maid of Orleans that rises above everything in this artistic achievement."[20] Pauline Kael wrote that her portrayal "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film."[1][7] Her performance was ranked 26th in Premiere Magazine'100 Greatest Performances of All Time,[21] the highest of any silent performance on the list. Jean Sémolué called it "a film of confrontation" and Paul Schrader has praised "the architecture of Joan's world, which literally conspires against her; like the faces of her inquisitors, the halls, doorways, furniture are on the offensive, striking, swooping at her with oblique angles, attacking her with hard-edged chunks of black and white."[5] Jonathan Rosenbaum has praised "Dreyer's radical approach to constructing space and the slow intensity of his mobile style make[s] this “difficult” in the sense that, like all the greatest films, it reinvents the world from the ground up."[22] Roger Ebert praised the film and said that "You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti."[23]

Some critics have found faults in the film, and Paul Rotha called it "one of the most remarkable productions ever realized in the history and development of cinema, but it was not a full exposition of real filmic properties". Tom Milne stated that "somehow the style Dreyer found for the film seems irremediably false. Instead of flowing naturally from his chosen seems imposed upon them...Throughout the film there is a constant stylistic uncertainty, an impurity, which jars heavily today," but adds that "Jeanne d'Arc has a majestic power which steamrollers its way through all its faults and excesses."[5]

It was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror biblical accounts of Christ's mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers. The Archbishop of Paris was also critical, demanding changes be made to the film.[20]

The Passion of Joan of Arc has appeared on Sight & Sound magazine's top ten films poll five times: as number seven in 1952[24] and 1972,[25] and as number ten (Critic's List) and six (Director's List) in 1992[26] and as number nine in 2012 (Critic's List).[27] The Village Voice ranked it the eighth of the twentieth century in a 2000 poll of critics.[28] In 2010, the Toronto International Film Festival released its "Essential 100" list of films, which merged one list of the 100 greatest films of all time as determined by an expert panel of TIFF curators with another list determined by TIFF stakeholders. The Passion of Joan of Arc was ranked as the most influential film of all time.[undue weight? – discuss][29][30]

Scenes from Passion appear in Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre sa Vie (1962), in which the protagonist Nana sees the film at a cinema and identifies with Joan. In Henry & JuneHenry Miller is shown watching the last scenes of the film and in voice-over narrates a letter to Anaïs Nin comparing her to Joan and himself to the "mad monk" character played by Antonin Artaud.


Music for the film was played live in the theatre and there is no evidence that Dreyer ever selected a definitive score. Numerous composers have contributed scores for this film.

  • In 1988, the Dutch composer Jon van den Booren wrote a modern score for symphony orchestra.[31]
  • In 1994, composer Richard Einhorn wrote an oratorio based on the film entitled "Voices of Light". This piece is now available as an optional accompaniment on the Criterion Collection's DVD release.[32]
  • On 27 August 1995, Nick Cave and the Dirty Three played a live soundtrack to the film at the National Film Theatre in London.[33]
  • In 1999, American singer/songwriter Cat Power provided musical accompaniment at several screenings of the film in the U.S.[34]
  • In 2003, American ambient guitarist Rob Byrd performed a live score to the film at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. Subsequent live score performances took place in May 2004 at the Red Tail Loft in Boston, April 2008 at Monkeytown in Brooklyn, and November 2010 at the Lyndsay Chapel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[35]
  • In 2003, Norwegian electronic music act Ugress released a limited edition CD entitled "La Passion De Jeanne D'Arc: Soundtrack to a silent movie."[36]
  • On 16 April 2008, neo-classical/martial electronica group In The Nursery premiered a new sound track for the film at Sheffield Cathedral.[37]
  • Danish composer Jesper Kyd was commissioned by Danish Film Festival founders Christian Ditlev Bruun and Lene Pels Jorgensen to provide a new score for the Danish Film Festival: Los Angeles.[38]
  • In 2009, the Estonian composer Tõnu Kõrvits wrote a score for small orchestra (for L´Ensemble De Basse-Normandie 2009/10 concert season) for this film.[39]
  • In 2009, the Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavičius wrote a score for chamber orchestra (for St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra), which was performed in Scanorama – European film forum inVilnius.[40]
  • In 2010, American electronic/chamber composer/arranger George Sarah provided an original score along with a string quartet and choir featuring members of the LA Master Chorale at a screening of the film in Los Angeles.[41]
  • In 2010, Canadian composer Stefan Smulovitz wrote a score for string quartet, brass, percussion, pipe organ, and solo voice, which premiered at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver, BC.[42]
  • On 7 May 2010, a score by Adrian Utley and Will Gregory premièred at the Colston Hall in Bristol. It was a collaboration between Utley, Gregory, the Colston Hall and the Watershed Media Centre.[43]
  • On 14 April 2011, indie rock outfit Joan of Arc accompanied this film at Chicago International Movies & Music Fest (CIMM Fest).