Sunday, March 24, 2013

Silent Sundays: The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

“Even if you part my soul from my body I will not confess.”
            Growing up in a Catholic household whenever I read about the lives of the saints I was always fascinated with their sacrifices for their faith. I would like to say I would confess to my faith and stick by it if I were tortured or whatever like the saints were but in reality I do not think I would. One saint’s story that had always fascinated me and still does is Joan of Arc. I remember reading a book about her when I was young I had found it in the library. I remember not being able to pronounce half the names since they were in French but what I was able to understand I liked. When I began to really become interested in silent films one of the first I had read about was The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer. I was immediately interested in seeing the film just based off what it was about and then I saw some film stills and clips and it became a film I had to see.
            The story being told in The Passion of Joan of Arc is supposed to have come from a book that had been found in an old library. This book contains notes from the trail of a young woman who fought for her country and was judged and tortured by unorthodox theologians.
            These unorthodox theologians are supposed to be men of God. They are supposed to help those in need and not judge people. What they seem to be is scared. They are scared of a young girl named Joan who comes from a small French village who has lead her people to fight the invading English on the orders of God. They try to belittle her questions and make her confess using trickery. Joan wears men’s clothing on God’s orders. The theologians cannot and will not believe that God has made a woman wear men’s clothing. They tell her if she puts on women’s clothes they will allow her to attend mass. When Joan refuses they think she is blasphemous. One thing they desperately want Joan to do to prove she has been sent by God is to repeat The Lord’s Prayer. She knows the prayer but will not do so for them. Eventually she does recite the prayer when the priests trick her that the King has sent her a letter. One of the priests has forged the King’s signature even though Joan does not know what it looks like nor does she know how to read.

            The priests have enough of her answers. They bring her to the torture chamber. They want her to sign a confession to get her to stop everything she says and does. They tell her she will be alone in the world without God if she does not. Joan replies that she will be alone with God.  Before they can put her on anything Joan faints.
            Soon Joan is brought once again before a judge. They make her sign a confession in a moment of weakness. She has seen that she will be put to the stake. When she is brought back to her room Joan calls the priests and changes her mind about her confession. After her retracted statement Joan is now sentenced to die.
            Crowds of townspeople rush to the center of town to watch the burning. Many of them are crying and saddened. One man in the crowd yells at the priests that they have killed a saint.

            The Passion of Joan of Arc was a beautiful film. Carl Theodor Dreyer shot the entire film in close ups mostly from Joan’s point of view. The close-ups allow you feel every emotion from Joan and all the characters. You are given the sense of how small Joan feels and how she sees these unorthodox theologians who are supposed to be kind men of God judging her unfairly. You can see that these men are afraid of her. Their questions even show they are afraid of her. I liked this take on the story of Joan of Arc. Everyone knows she wore armor and fought in battles and was burned at the stake. This is a different take it shows a woman who was scared. It shows her as a human. You want her suffering to end. The one scene that got to me was when she was being given her Last Rites and there was a carnival happening. The people were oblivious and it was almost as if it was mocking a tragedy that was taking and about to be taking place. The Passion of Joan of Arc is an absolute silent classic. If you are interested in storytelling and film making and silent films definitely watch this film.