The Passion of Joan of Arc

Dir: Carl Theodor Dreyer, Denmark 1928, 82 mins 

Cert: PG

This film was made in the late silent period, just before the dawn of talkies, but it feels like, as Jean Cocteau put it, ‘an historical document from an era in which the cinema didn’t exist.’ Carl Theodor Dreyer takes a familiar story – the country girl who led an army against the English, and ended up on trial for blasphemy – and gives it a piercing, elemental quality. He had a huge, complex set built, based on Rouen Castle, but we see very little of it. Instead the focus is on faces: of the accusers, fierce, suspicious, looming over the camera; and of Joan, played by Marie Falconetti in a soaring performance that seems barely a performance at all.

The director’s approach was so stripped-down that he even preferred the film to be seen without music, but we’re confident that he would have approved of tonight’s accompaniment. Pianist Paul Shallcross (last seen in these parts at our Christmas Buster Keaton show) has written a score beautifully attuned to the agony and ecstasy of Dreyer’s vision, and we’re also delighted to be screening a newly spruced-up version of the film produced for the recent Masters of Cinema blu ray release. We hope you’ll agree that this is about as good as cinema gets.

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Birmingham Arts Lab Sessions

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