The Passion of Joan of Arc ★★★★½

Film #18 of Project 20

”Will I be with you tonight in Paradise?”

Eyes. This devastating piece of cinema is all about the eyes of Maria Falconetti. Fear, hope, helplessness, innocence and simplicity of a young girl who becomes the victim of religious intolerance are all visible in her eyes, the eyes open a window into her restless soul and help us understand her grave and unfortunate situation. The Passion of Joan of Arc is not only a period drama about a famous historical figure whose innocence and patriotism made her a legendary persona in the history, it is an unsettling study of mankind’s brutality and a first-rate comparison of the redeeming power of religious purity and the oppressiveness of theological dogmatism.

Portraying religious figures has always been a challenge for directors and writers but the way Carl Theodor Dreyer brings Joan of Arc into life and turns her into a sympathetic character is no less than a cinematic miracle. Only showing us her miserable situation and the emotional pains she is going through was not going to make us have sympathy for the young girl, what makes The Passion of Joan of Arc such an impressive and engaging experience is that by showing us detailed gut-wrenching trial sessions and brutality of the inflexible judges the film approaches its main protagonist as a human - and not a holy figure – trapped in a perilous situation.

The film never bothers itself with questions like whether Joan of Arc was really a daughter of God or not and it never tries to rationalize her actions or her thoughts, instead it gives us a human being who is the victim of religious dictatorship, that’s all. A simple human being whose purity and spiritual spotlessness challenges the hypocrisy and falseness of those who call themselves men of God. This antagonism between two different ways of dealing with religion along with the concepts of martyrdom and sacrifice turn The Passion of Joan of Arc into a precise and enlightening movie about religion and its paradoxical capabilities: for some it is a tool of achieving spiritual richness and mental peace while for some others it is a way of restricting other people’s freedom and building a tyrannous state.

One element that makes the experience even more striking is the film’s score, it injects a sense of sadness and doom to Dreyer’s images and turns the film into an utterly emotional and stirring experience. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a movie which reminds us why cinema is one of the greatest artistic mediums when it comes to portraying the vastness and splendor of human soul, it is an arresting and thought-provoking piece of art which addresses some of the most confounding questions regarding religion and faith and the various ways of approaching those issues and it is also a touching study of morality and virtue. An absolutely fantastic artistic creation, The Passion of Joan of Arc is an everlasting masterpiece.

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