Director: Carl Th. Dreyer
The Faces. It is the faces that haunt you. The faces of the judges are haughty and sanctimonous. They sneer and despise. They are fearful and confused. The faces of the guards are ignorant and crude. They are leering and mocking. They are full of cruel, carnal glee as they torment their prey.
And we see the face of Joan–soft, sweet and innocent. Seldom are we able to peer into such deep and honest emotion as we do when look at the face of Joan, played with such amazing skill by Maria Falconetti. She shows a vast range of emotion–from fearful to peaceful, from shocked to amazed, from delighted to despondant. Her face will haunt you for a long time.
The power of this film comes from Dreyer’s incessant use of close-ups. They have been used many times before and since, but never with more artistic skill. The film was shot on an elaborate, expense set, but we rarely see it. Dreyer’s purpose with the film was not to make a period piece. He did not want to focus on the externals. He wanted to focus on the emotional and spiritual core of the story. This is where the close-ups are effective. By focusing almost solely on the faces, any artiface and distraction is removed. All we can focus on is the characters and the spiritual struggle taking place.
The film is ostensibly about the conflict between organized religion and personal piety. It illustrates this with remarkable skill. However, Dreyer is so skilled he is able to obtain so much more from the story. He is able to showcase one woman’s courage and devotness during a period of extreme persecution. This is not an explicity religious film.
This film is generally regarded as one the greatest, if not the greatest, silent films. It is one of my favorite films. It is an absolute masterpiece. Whatever you think of silent films, you should set aside your preconceptions and watch this film.