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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Passion of Joan of Arc (Blu-ray)
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Blu-ray)
Criterion // Unrated // March 20, 2018 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Ian Jane | posted March 14, 2018 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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The Movie:

Directed by Carl Theodore Dreyer in 1928, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc has rightly stood the test of time as one of the most moving and effecting silent films ever made. The Criterion Collection, who previously released the film on DVD, have now upgraded it to Blu-ray in a disc fairly loaded with features sporting a transfer taken from a new 2k restoration.

Dreyer, maybe not so surprisingly, isn't interested in exploring Joan's heroics and accomplishments. Rather, his film focuses on what happened to her after the siege of Orléans and the crowning of The Dauphin as the King of France. Instead, the movie is far more invested in the trial that took place in which certain French parties loyal to Britain set out to prove Joan no less than a heretic . While the actual trial ran months, Dreyer's film adaptation seems to take place in a single day, though the film is based on the actual transcripts of her trial. As all of this plays out, we see Joan dragged through the ringer in the court, beaten down emotionally and treated no less than abhorrently. Throughout all of this, her courage and bravery remain steadfast.

At the center of all of this great drama is Renee Maria Falconetti, cast in the lead as Joan Of Arc in what was her only leading role. Without the aid of dialogue, she's able to convey so much sincerity, tragedy, sadness, bravery and yes, passion with simple facial expressions that it's easy to forget that you're watching a silent film. The fact that she wears no makeup in the film only accentuates her characters humanity and further cements the film's realism in regards to how it treats its subject. Dreyer discovered Falconetti in a Parisian theater and saw ‘something' in her face. Casting her in the role was a brilliant move, it's hard to imagine anyone embodying the character as insanely effectively as Faloncetti does in this picture. Her work in front of the camera is flawless. The supporting cast is also strong, particularly Antonin Artaud as Jean Massieu and Michel Simon as Jean Lemaître and the dozen or so actors case as judges. But it's Falconetti that the film revolves around and she by far makes the strongest impression.

The film is also visually quite impressive. Dreyer had one massive set built for this production and he had a good budget to do it with. As such, the castle and courtyard setting of the film looks great. It's realistic enough to work but also cinematic in the way that you'd want a set for a movie like this to be. Given that the film was made during the peak of the expressionist movement's popularity, it's to be expected to a certain degree that realism might not be as important as the ‘look' of the film, and it's clear that Dreyer had a very specific aesthetic in mind when making the film. That look is grim and dire, the court setting and its surroundings are never meant to look attractive, there's no attempt on Dreyer's part to paint this is a typical historical drama with typically lush sets.

As fantastic as it looks, however, it's still Falconetti's work in front of the camera that resonates. Interestingly enough, the camerawork doesn't spend too much time showing off the sets. There is no establishing photography here, the entire film is shot in medium and closeup shots, which serves the story well and creates an effective sense of tension and claustrophobia as the trial plays out. The film plays against type in its shooting and its editing, using unexpected angles and cuts to draw us into the storyline and to keep us on guard.

The Blu-ray

Video:

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc looks very good presented in its original 1.33.1 aspect on the 50GB disc and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition taken from a new 2k restoration performed by Gaumont in France. Contrast looks quite good and we get nice, clean whites and solid, inky blacks.

Note that the film is presented in both 20fps and 24fps options on this release. In the extras, a video essay from Casper Tybjerg discusses why this is included and why it's important, essentially boiling it down to the differences in frame rates on silent films and early sound pictures. The 20fps version shows some combing effects that are not present in the 24fps version, which looks better in motion for that reason. Otherwise, the two versions appear to use the same source material, which is not a bad thing at all. There's excellent detail here and a nice absence of compression artifacts, edge enhancement and noise reduction issues.

Sound:

Criterion offer up three scores for the feature. On the 24fps version we get we get Richard Einhorn's Voices of Light in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio format. This track is excellent, it's highly active and genuinely engrossing and it suits the visuals beautifully. Also included in LPCM 2.0 format is an alternate score by Goldfrapp's Will Gregory and Portishead's Adrian Utley. The 20fps version includes a score by composer and pianist Mie Yanashita, also in LPCM 2.0 format. Both of these tracks are also quite good, the Gregory/Utley track in particular is quite interesting, and the sound quality is strong across the board. Both versions of the film are also available to watch without any sound at all for those who might prefer that option.

Extras:

Carried over from past releases is an audio commentary recorded 1999 by film scholar Casper Tybjerg that does an excellent job of detailing the release history of this picture, going into detail about its backstory and placing it into context alongside the director's other films. The commentary also deals with the source material and the historical events that inspired the film, how they compare to other takes on the story and quite a bit more.

The extras continue with a new interview with Richard Einhorn wherein he spends roughly eleven-minutes talking about the research that he did before sitting down to compose his impressive score for the film, as well as what he tried to bring to the experience of watching the film with his music. Also interesting is a new conversation between Gregory and Utley in which they spend just over fifteen-minutes talking about their thoughts on the film and what they tried to bring to the movie when they composed their score for its re-release. In the ‘New video essay by Casper Tybjerg' as noted above, we delve into the history of the film and how and why it is presented with the two frame rate options it is presented with on this disc. Also worth checking out is an interview from 1995 with actor Renée Falconetti's daughter and biographer, Hélène Falconetti that runs just under nine-minutes and features some interesting information about her mother's career and her thoughts on this particular film. Also well worth watching for this with an interest in film history is a ten-minute featurette that explains the different versions of The Passion Of Joan Of Arc that exist as well as how and why they differ.

Rounding out the extras is a Production Design Archive and a trailer for the feature as well as menus and chapter selection. Included inside the clear Blu-ray case alongside the disc is an insert booklet that contains an essay on the film by Mark Le Fanu, a director's statement penned by Dryer in 1929, the full libretto for Einhorn's Voices Of Light and credits for both the feature and the Blu-ray presentation.

Final Thoughts:

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc is a beautiful, moving film and a genuine triumph of the silent film era. The Criterion Collection bring Carl Theodore Dryer's classic to Blu-ray in very fine form with an impressive array of supplements. Highly recommended.

Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.

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