Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 ‘La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc’ is arguably one of the finest films in the history of film, and Renée Jeanne Falconetti, primarily known as a stage performer in light opera, provides it with one of cinema’s most harrowing performances. Shot almost entirely in closeups, without the theatrical makeup more suited for the physical distance of the stage than the intimacy of the camera, and stripped of the melodramatic conventions of the time, ‘La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc’ marks the arrival of the human being, as revealed in the subtle revelations of the face, as the true subject of cinema.
‘Joan and her Persecutors’ is an exploration of Dreyer’s exploration of the face, both emphasizing and formalizing the delicate play of expression across the physiognomies of the actors as they move through the drama of Joan’s trial and execution. The twenty or so percent of the movie that are not closeups have been edited out, and the movie is played back in a nonlinear fashion: rather than being shown sequentially, each successive frame can be one of any in approximately a one-second range forward or backward in time around the previous frame. This vacillating motion gives the illusion of extreme slowing, although the frames are played back at their original rate.
Eisenstein said of ‘La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc’ that it was “beautiful, but not a film: rather, a series of wonderful photographs.” The temporal slippage of this work, like a photograph, alienates the viewer from the narrative context of any emotion, creating almost abstract images, exaggerated by the doubling and reorientation of the frame, while simultaneously emphasizing the power of human expression itself.
Premiered at Vasulka Kitchen video center, Brno, Czech Republic, June 2021.