Last weekend I had a mini-movie marathon. In between some of the "great" movies of the last decade that I missed (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Fight Club), I watched a film called The Passion of Joan of Arc. This is one of the most moving pieces of cinema - cinema as art - that I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. I can only say WOW WOW WOW over and over again. How can Fight Club POSSIBLY compare to this?
The story of the film is amazing: the original copy was destroyed by fire...lost to the world forever...but then - another copy was miraculously discovered in 1981...in a Norwegian mental institution of all places. And that truly is miraculous, because for such a significant, stirring artwork to be gone forever would be a tragedy.
This is not the story of Joan of Arc in battle - it is the tale of her trial and execution. Probably half of the film is simply close-up shots of Renee Maria Falconetti, in her only film role ever. Absolutely powerful, absolutely amazing.
I saw Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ when it first came out, and was completely turned off by it. I understand that the point was to show how much Jesus suffered, but I felt that the violence was gratuitous (such as the 20 minute scourging scene). Did we really need to see the spurts of blood when Jesus's hands are nailed to the cross? I don't think so...the thought of a nail being pounded through one's hands is really enough to get the point across.
I bring up that movie - (movie compared to film) as a comparison: they are both about a passion (in the religious sense). One I found so blatantly violent for violence's sake that I was turned off, numbed and unaffected, unmoved. The Passion of Joan of Arc, however, is one of the best pieces of film that I have ever seen...it shows the heights to which art can be taken...and I wonder, what would have been the impact of The Passion of the Christ if it had been modeled after Carl Theodor Dreyers silent masterpiece? It probably wouldn't have had the mass appeal that it did, but does that matter? Should that matter? (Perhaps that is the disctintion between films and movies.) In terms of an enduring piece of art, The Passion of Joan of Arc is far superior.
This film is so much more than film. As I said, it is really a depection of the height of art - it is the most beautiful, stirring, poingant artworks that I have ever had the pleasure to witness. It is film as art.
P.S. Though it is understood today that there was no definitive score for this silent film, the DVD gives you the option to have Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light played during the film. This music was inspired by the film, and I would definately recommend that you watch the movie with the sound.