Robert Beksinski’s review published on Letterboxd:
The first time I had seen this film, I watched it in complete and utter silence as Dreyer originally intended it to be. Even without a musical score, the images displayed before me resonated deeply and I knew I was witnessing something to marvel and behold. But yet there always felt like there was something missing in my time thinking back on that first watch. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on that prevented it from "feeling" like a perfect film in my eyes. I was determined that with my rewatch I would seek out the now famous "Visions of Light" score to accompany it to see how musical composition may affect the viewing experience. Well ladies and gentlemen, I finally found what was missing.
Against Dreyer's wishes, I recommend to anyone who may hope to watch this masterpiece of filmmaking to watch it with the Opera induced orchestral "Visions of Light" music. From the opening credits when the powerful Opera hum immediately set the film's tone, I knew what was missing from before. The music is incredibly fitting to the content of the movie but it goes even further than that. While in silence, the anguish of Falconetti's Joan character is enough to evoke emotional resonance. But with the music, it amplifies the drama and emotion to a heightened degree that courses through the viewer's body manipulating our psyche in a multitude of ways. Emotions submit to the images on screen and we find ourselves reacting to the cinematic power flowing through Dreyer's film.
His celluloid alone proved stronghold and determined to make itself be known. Thought to be lost for decades with even the original print being caught on fire forcing Dreyer to re-edit the entire film over again with unused footage; a pristine copy very close to the original vision was found in of all places a mental institution in Norway. This is a film that would never stay dead, the world would have to see it for all of its glory.
Maria Falconetti acted in less than a handful of films, this being her only outing in a lead role. Yet with her naturalistic acting (and probably mental stress that Dreyer put her through), she immortalized a role that will forever be considered one of the greatest acting performances of all time. It is so extremely nuanced and realistic, just to think that this was during the silent era is nearly unimaginable. Her pain, torment, and sorrow brutalized the audience with deep sympathy. Falconetti's performance was also very layered and more complex than just the surface value. Her Joan could be seen on many occasions not only as a flawed human being rather than a saint but also perhaps mentally unstable. She is conflicted with reasoning, lost in thought, but still sane enough to escape the manipulation of the Catholic Judges.
Dreyer films estimate 90% of the movie with nothing but close up photography of his actors. At the same time, these are not just your ordinary record a face close ups either. Dreyer makes an aesthetic choice in doing this and wasting what the majority of the films budget was spent on in the sets which can rarely be seen. He stages the frame with foreboding and ominous presence. There are shots during the sacrament scenes where the camera looks up to the priest as he performs his ceremony thus giving the audience the illusion that we are the ones kneeling before him. Simplistic choices like these further the impact the film has on the viewer.
The emotional depth to this film (or at least how it affected me personally) is tremendous. To know a film is successful is if it can get the audience to play right into its traps. I constantly could find myself nearly in tears from sympathy for Joan or the opposite effect of anger or disgust in response to many of the actions of the Judges. There is a reason why many even go as far as to say The Passion of Joan of Arc may be one of if not "the" greatest film ever made. Everyone must go and see it for themselves to believe it. True magic of cinema and a genuine work of art.