Eureka Entertainment // 1928 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // November 19th, 2012
"In France, I am called Joan...in my village, I am called Jeanneton."
I'll keep the history lesson brief. Born into a peasant family in eastern France in the year 1412, Joan of Arc went on to lead the French army for a time during the One Hundred Year's War against the English. Joan galvanized a demoralized French army, leading them to a pivotal victory at the siege of Orleans in 1429 -- aged just seventeen years old.
Joan's claims to be guided by God -- and particularly her claims to have been visited by St. Michael -- proved too troubling for some. When Joan was eventually captured by the English, she was put on trial for heresy, which would lead to her execution.
The years following Joan's death eventually led to a retrial, where, in 1456, Joan was declared innocent of the charges previously made against her. This in turn led to her being canonized in 1920.
Writer-director Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc focuses on the final days of Joan of Arc, as she stands trial for heresy before an English backed court.
Those familiar with Carl Dreyer's much celebrated 1928 silent masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc, have reason to celebrate as it finally comes to Blu-ray thanks to UK distributor Eureka Entertainment. Not only is The Passion of Joan of Arc (Blu-ray) (Region B) presented in a glorious 1080p transfer (more on which later), but Eureka has done its utmost to ensure theirs is the definitive package. Available from the disc's menu is a choice of no less than three versions of the film. The first version on offer is the long-considered-lost original cut of the film. For over fifty years following the film's theatrical release in 1928, this cut of the film was thought to have perished, before it finally resurfaced in 1980 when it was found -- in a Norwegian mental hospital, no less. If the promise of seeing this cut of the film in high definition was not enough, Eureka offers two viewing options for it: 24fps playback, or -- in a move sure to please purists who believe it offers a more accurate reflection of how the film would have originally looked -- 20fps. Also included is the "Lo Duca" version, which for years was the only available cut of Dreyer's film. Utilizing alternative takes, and running a good 15 minutes shorter than Dreyer's cut, the "Lo Duca" version is often seen as a butchering of the The Passion of Joan of Arc, but its inclusion in this set still feels necessary.
The film itself can initially be a little disconcerting, as, excepting a few brief lines of text that offer a brief background on Joan, the events of the story are presented out of any sort of context. The Passion of Joan of Arc opens as Joan's trial is getting underway and progresses from there, meaning that the filmmakers are assuming the viewer is already fully clued into Joan's background already.
With its minimalist sets, The Passion of Joan of Arc is not interested in presenting a grand cinematic experience. Rather, with Dreyer utilizing close-ups of his cast for the vast majority of the film, this is a film that focuses on the emotions at play. To this end, Dreyer is heavily reliant on the performance of Renee Jeanne Falconetti, who plays the eponymous Joan. Falconetti's performance, captured almost exclusively in extreme close-up, is mesmerizing from the start. Falconetti's is a remarkably nuanced delivery, never once resorting to overacting. Understandably, considering this is a silent film, the actress is dependent on her mannerisms to convey her emotion, but in truth Falconetti's deeply expressive eyes tell us everything we need to know.
At 97 minutes, The Passion of Joan of Arc is at times an arduous experience, primarily due to the repetitious nature of the trial. However, this is understandable as it allows Dreyer to really hammer home the bias and unwavering contempt of the Church.
The film's final act focuses on Joan's execution, and for the first time we get a sense of what Joan meant to the people she fought for. Surprisingly graphic, Dreyer ensures Joan's execution is a harrowing, emotional experience that is not easily forgotten.
The 1.37:1/1080p transfer is nothing short of stunning. As is seen in the "Restoration Demonstration" featurette included on the Blu-ray, the print was in less than stellar shape when work began on the remastering. Yet now, thanks to what one assumes was a lengthy process, the film is shorn of much of the damage that plagued it. The image is remarkably sharp, and the amount of detail astounding. There are still occasional moments of softness or examples of damage to the print, but taking into account the film's age, I think we can agree such instances are forgivable. Both the 20fps and 24fps versions of the film feature the option of their own score. The 20fps version features a score from composer Mie Yanashita, while American musician Loren Connors provides a more unconventional piece for the 24fps version. Beyond the already mentioned restoration featurette (3 minutes), no extras are included on the disc. The retail copy of the Blu-ray (also available in a limited edition steelbook) will include an illustrated booklet, featuring rare archival imagery and a discussion on the film that includes Dreyer's own words.
The lack of any real urgency in its pacing means The Passion of Joan of Arc won't be for everyone, but for those with a taste for emotionally charged cinema, Dreyer's film is essential.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eureka Entertainment
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (Silent)
* English (Intertitles)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1928
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Alternate Cut