The Passion of Joan of Arc: The Criterion Collection [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak with Shahir Daud (8th March 2018).
The Film

Joan of Arc has proven to be an elusive figurehead. She's long been an enigmatic vision whose image has become the symbol of French nationalism, and then further appropriated into the folds of modernity, feminism and modern sexuality. Her upbringing, religious conviction, strategic prowess and even her beauty have been hotly debated over the years by historians, but like any symbol, she has continued to draw hordes of fans who project their own beliefs onto her.

"The Passion of Joan of Arc" (1928), focuses only on her trial, but strives for absolute authenticity. According to the synopsis on the discs packaging: The film is a spiritual rapture and institutional hypocrisy come to stark, vivid life in one of the most transcendent masterpieces of the silent era. Chronicling the trial of Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti) in the hours leading up to her execution, Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer depicts her torment with startling immediacy, employing an array of techniques—expressionistic lighting, interconnected sets, painfully intimate close-ups—to immerse viewers in her subjective experience.

As far as silent era film go, you can't get any better than this one. For a film produced at the tale end of the 1920's it's remarkably ahead of its time. With cinematographer Rudolph Maté, Dreyer has meticulously planned and shot the film with an intimacy and immediacy not normally seen with films of this era. The expressionistic lighting and use of close-ups brings to life Joan's haunted face that channels both the agony and the ecstasy of martyrdom. Brought to life by Maria Falconetti who was specifically cast, her devotion to the role is easy to see here, there's so much communicated by her emotionality that her face will live in your memory long after you've viewed the film. In many ways when I think of Joan, I imagine Falconetti's face instead of the real person. That's how powerful her turn in this film was.

Not only was the film's cinematography impeccably planned and executed, the film's production design looks incredible as well. Utilizing state-of-the-art production techniques, interlocking sets, and a huge concrete set that replicated medieval architecture in order to realistically portray the Rouen prison. Production designers Jean Hugo and Hermann Warm did a splendid job in bringing the medieval times to life. Surprisingly this was Hugo's only film, while Warm went on to a long career with 84 credits into the mid 1950's.

There was some controversy in France surrounding the film's initial release, French nationalists where skeptical about a Danish filmmaker making a film about one of France's most iconic historical figures. The censors also cut the film down, the version that screen theatrically in France was not Dreyer's intended vision, yet the film performed admirably. Decades later in 1981, the original version would be discovered, interestingly, at a mental institution in Norway of all places. This is the version we get to see today.

Politically Joan's death was seen by the English as a potential catalyst for the end of the hundred years war. Cinematically she continues to be re-imagined as warrior/feminist/saint/icon, depending on the filmmaker, but if there can be considered a seminal Joan of Arc picture, then it should be Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc", cinephiles rejoice.


Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 1.37:1, mastered in HD 1080p using AVC MPEG-4 compression. Two frame rates are included, a 24/fps silent version that can be viewed without sound; with Richard Einhorn's "Voices of Light" (1994); or a brand new score by Will Gregory and a 20/fps silent version that can be viewed silent or with a piano score performed by Japanese silent film composer Mie Yanashita. Both version look great for a film that's 90 years old! It's a beautiful restoration that presented the black and white image cleanly, removing a lot of initial issues these older silent films are plagued with. Criterion has delivered a beautiful picture they should be proud of.


The film's sound is presented in either Music LPCM 2.0 stereo (20/fps version, 2005 score by Mie Yanashita), Music LPCM 2.0 stereo (24/fps version, 2001 score by Will Gregory), Music DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (24/fps version, "Voices of Light" score by Richard Einhorn), or the Silent Dolby Digital 0.0 with the usual intertitles. The film's audio is as expected, limited, but the film would have been originally show silent with a musical accompaniment when originally released. Criterion has done a splendid job of retaining the original nature of the film's audio. Subtitles are included in optional English for Danish Intertitles and French Intertitles.


The Criterion Collection has included an audio commentary, plus some interviews, featurettes, and some promotional material, below is a closer look at these supplements.

The film includes a feature-length audio commentary recorded in 1999 by film scholar Casper Tybjerg, he takes us through the film's casting, production, historical significance, among other things, it's a terrific track to listen to.

The disc also features an interview with Richard Einhorn (11:09), the musician discusses his "Voices of Light" score that he recorded for the film.

"Conversation between Gregory and Utley" (15:24) is a featurette that interviews Will Gregory and Adrain Utley, as they discuss their version of the soundtrack.

Video essay by Casper Tybjerg, the film critic explores the debate over the film’s frame rate.

Interview from 1995 with Helene Falconetti daughter and biographer of Maria Falconetti (8:47), the daughter of Maria comments on her mother's career, on working on the film, her acting philosophies, among other things.

"Version History" featurette (10:29), this takes a look at the various different edits of this film that had existed.

"Production Design" archive (3:51), a series of production stills set to some music.

The disc also features the film's original theatrical trailer (3:14).

The package comes with a liner notes booklet with an essay by critic Mark Le Fanu, a 1929 director’s statement by Dreyer, and the full libretto for "Voices of Light".


The Film: A+ Video: A Audio: A Extras: A Overall: A


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