Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s emotionally searing interpretation of the last hours in the life of Jeanne d’Arc is told almost completely through intense close-ups and features one of the most immeasurably moving performances in film history by Falconetti as Jeanne. It is widely regarded as one of the great masterpieces of the cinema.
The film premiered in Copenhagen on 21 April 1928. For the French premiere in Paris in October of that year the prints had already been censored to avoid offending the Church. In December 1928, the original negative was lost in a fire in Berlin, and Dreyer had to reconstitute the film using out-takes and rushes from the first version. Prints from this second negative are what survived in the world’s film archives, but no-one, including Dreyer, was satisfied with the results. In 1984 an immaculate print taken from the original negative was discovered in an Oslo psychiatric institution. It seems a doctor had requested a print to show his patients and simply never returned it. The film was preserved by the Danish Filmmuseum, and new prints made available to Archives. — Jonathan Dennis, 1988
This first Auckland screening of the rediscovered original version will be shown with English inter-titles prepared by the National Film Archive of Great Britain. Dorothy Buchanan’s arrangement for organ and women’s chorus of Leo Puget and Victor Alix’s score which accompanied the film at its Paris premiere was commissioned by Jonathan Dennis as director of The New Zealand Film Archive for the New Zealand Festival of the Arts in 1988 and first performed at the Embassy Theatre, Wellington on March 20, 1988. ‘Of all the many projects we worked on together this was the most utterly satisfying – and I think the most significant,’ says Buchanan. ‘There was something extremely exciting about working the fragments of the old score into a modern form – a chorus of women’s voices – and bringing the film to a contemporary audience.’ I can think of no better way to commemorate Jonathan’s contributions to the Festival or his dedication to the enduring vitality of early cinema on New Zealand screens. Dorothy Buchanan’s eerily lovely score makes the experience of a great movie a very emotional one. It was something Jonathan was justly proud of. — BG
"The script was derived from Joseph Delteil’s novel about Joan of Arc but Dreyer used little material from the actual story and Delteil was only credited as co-scenarist for publicity reasons. In fact the largest part of the screenplay was taken from the authentic records of the trial. Actual shooting lasted from May to October 1927 and chronologically followed the sequence of the trial, the death sentence, and Joan’s execution. The trial and execution are concentrated into one day from the eighteen months actually involved…
When Dreyer arrived in Paris he announced that Jeanne d’Arc was to be a sound film. Lack of equipment forced him to abandon this but he nevertheless has his actors speak their lines. While shooting was still in progress he said: ‘It is necessary to give the public the true impression of watching life through a keyhole in the screen… I am searching for nothing but life. Only when the film is finished does one know if one has found it. The director is nothing, life is everything and is the real director. It is the objective drama of the spirit that is important, not the objective drama of the images’ (September 9, 1927 Cinémagazine). The enormous sets, designed by Hermann Warm, were built on a piece of land between Montrouge and Petit-Clamart in Paris. The stark ‘white’ walls were tinted pink to make them more photogenic.
Dreyer chose Maria Falconetti for the title role though nothing in her career seemed to indicate she could handle it. She had never appeared in films (and never did again)… Valentine Hugo has described Dreyer’s methods on the set: ‘At all times we suffered the enveloping sense of horror, of an iniquitous trial, of an eternal judicial error… I saw the most mistrustful actors, carried away by the will and faith of the director, unconsciously continuing to play their roles after the cameras had stopped. A judge, after a scene in which he appeared moved by Joan’s suffering, mumbling, ‘At heart she’s a witch!’ He was living the drama as though it were real. Another, boiling with rage, hurls a string of invective at the accused and finally interjects this apostrophe: ‘You are a disgrace to the Army!’… (It was) particularly moving the day when Falconetti’s hair was cropped close to her skull in the wan light of the execution morning and in the total silence on the set. We were as touched as if the mark of infamy were truly being applied and we were in the grip of ancient prejudices. The electricians, the mechanics held their breaths and their eyes were full of tears.’ Falconetti herself cried. ‘Then the director slowly walked towards the heroine, caught some of her tears on his finger and touched them to his lips.’" (Ciné-Mirror, November 11, 1927)
"The film is in three parts: the first uses the moving camera to a large extent to introduce the judges and describe the tribunal hall and the setting up of the tribunal. The second part, which depicts the trial itself, the death sentence, and the preparation of the torture, is handled almost entirely in close-ups or extreme close-ups. Objects take on more significance than the white walls of the set and the cutting and intertitles render the rare camera movements almost invisible. The third part, Joan’s exit from prison and march through the crowds in the market place to the stake, is full of many audacious camera movements.
Moussinac has noted that ‘Dreyer made maximum use of close-ups and all the expressive possibilities of camera angles. His refusal to use make-up gives the faces a strange and terrible force, allowing them to express internal feelings and thoughts with singular power. All the fingerprint techniques in the world identify less from the outside than such a facial detail reveals from the interior only by means of a close-up of a mouth, and eye, or a wrinkle.’ Since 1928, Jeanne d’Arc has been hailed as a masterpiece… Jean Cocteau wrote that ‘Potemkin imitated a documentary and threw us into confusion. Jeanne d’Arc seems like an historical document from an era in which cinema didn’t exist.’…
Jeanne d’Arc was originally released in France in a version censored by the Catholic Church. It was also banned in all the Nazi-occupied countries between 1940–44." — Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films