The Passion of Joan of Arc
A silent film from 1928 depicting the trial of Joan of Arc for heresy is never going to be the first choice for a Saturday night's viewing, but this stark, taut drama from Carl Theodor Dreyer is a revelation, a demonstration of silent cinema at its peak and a world away from the baggy melodrama and bombast often associated with the form.
What is striking is how much of this silent film is concerned with talking – the wheedling interrogation of Joan is dense with theological argument. This is conveyed in part by lengthy intertitles, but primarily by looming close ups which contrast Joan's smooth, regular features with the craven, ruined faces of the churchmen. Falconetti's performance is extraordinary, capturing both Joan's ecstatic faith and her fear of being burnt at the stake.
Dreyer's story of religious faith on trial under threat of torture and martyrdom, alongside his startling formal innovations, make a compelling case for his masterpiece's continued relevance. [Keir Roper-Caldbeck]