Saturday, December 15, 2012

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928, France),

A young woman’s faith cannot be burned away by the Church, a corporation whose business is packaging and selling God to the uninformed masses. But Jeanne awakens the holy ghost of spiritual revolution, inciting truth through martyrdom where action (or inaction) speaks much louder than words to an illiterate populace.

Carl Th. Dreyer’s expressive benediction portrays the virginal heroine as larger than life, her freckled visage dominating the compositions with tear stained compassion, her intelligent eyes reflecting the arc lights of an arch angel, revealing depths of humanity beyond the soul’s mirrored lens. Eschewing establishing shots, Dreyer films almost entirely in close-up allowing the characters to expose their flaws thematically, through physical grotesqueries and jaundiced expressions. This is a story told with the eyes wide shut to the injustice of religious mysticism, where balistraria discharge curses like poisonous arrows. Dreyer depicts one elder priest with tufts of oily hair that look like demonic horns, and another whose wart become cancerous nodules of fatalistic demarcation. Jeanne is held in stasis by the camera, a devoted young women whose shaven head, an act meant to demean her, only accentuates Jeanne's beautiful countenance. 

Dreyer often films from low angles casting the church mongers as monsters looming above the heroine (and audience), their ghastly presence omniscient like insane gods without appeal to their ignoble decisions. Joan is abused and debased but remains human, and though a few priests are sympathetic to her plight, they have been castrated by the very Church whose hypocrisy violates any sense of transcendental morality. His inspired montage worships Eisenstein’s cinematic philosophy, and the clashing imagery in quick cuts generates passion and friction, leading to the Pyrrhic climax. When viewed properly at 20 fps, every expressive nuance now feels perfectly natural. 

As the fire claims a young woman, burning away her flesh so her spirit can soar to the heavens, the holy cross becomes obscured by smoke and sin, while the villagers embrace their own judgment at the risk of sword and mace. Jeanne's fate is a prescient tale of extremist belief through power and murder.

Final Grade: (A+)