The Passion of Joan of Arc (La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc)

Year of Release: 1928     Directed by Carl Th. Dreyer.  Starring Melle Falconetti.

In suffering, we unite ourselves with Christ in His suffering and Passion.  Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1928 silent film, The Passion of Joan of Arc portrays this truth very clearly by paralleling Joan’s suffering with Christ’s suffering.  The film only portrays the trial and execution of Joan, (Melle Falconetti) her most intense hours of suffering.  Dryer captures the intensity and the overwhelming emotions very well.   Through his camera angels and pacing, he makes the viewer feel as if he were present during Joan’s passion.

The first parallel is in the title, the word “passion” draws an obvious reference to Christ’s Passion.  Similar to high priests and elders, Joan is tried and convicted by elderly priests who have already predetermined the verdict of the trial.  For many of their irrelevant questions, she is silent, like a lamb led before its shearers.  When she does answer, her responses are succinct and adroit like Christ’s responses to Sanhedrin and Pilate.  “That has nothing to do with this trial!”  versus “Do you say this on your own accord, or have others told you this about me?”  When Joan claims that she was sent by God and is His daughter, she is accused of blasphemy.  When the priests asked her what reward has God promised her, she answered her freedom from prison.  The priests are incapable of understanding that her death will free her from their prison and the prison of this world; much like the Pharisees could not understand Jesus when He said He would, “Destroy this temple and in three days raise it up.”  Since the victim’s promised sign from God did not come true in the minds of both persecutors, the priests believe that the victim must be in league with the devil.  Like Christ’s responses to the Pharisees, Joan’s answers are twisted to suit their preconceived evil designs.

Joan has a woven whicker crown.  The soldiers place it on her head and give her an arrow as a scepter while they mock her claim that her mission was from God and she saw visions of St. Michael the Archangel.  During her visions of St. Michael, Joan was told to lead the French army to victory, as angels ministered to Christ before He began His work as the Messiah.  While in prison Joan comes down with a fever and is bled, as Christ bled during the scourging at the pillar.  The doctor had Joan bled to save her life as Pilate had Jesus scourged to save Him from the Jews.  Joan’s agony before her execution causes her to recant her claims, but she then regains her right mind and accepts God’s will for her.

The lamb metaphor is furthered when Joan is shaved before her execution.  Immediately before her execution, an old woman from the crowd comes to help Joan and gives her a drink of water, paralleling Veronica.  Over the stake at which she is burned, a sign is nailed.  As Joan is led to the stake, people are going about their daily business, watching a play or feeding their children, but they stop what they are doing to see the event.  A group of women weep out of pity for Joan.

After Joan dies a man immediately protests that a saint was burned.  The French army attacks the city, creating a storm.  During the attack, a church window is smashed rather than the sanctuary veil being torn in two.  Joan’s final words are, “Will I be with you tonight in Paradise?”  This references the good thief’s request to Jesus, but also underscores the reason Christ died.  He died so He could remember us all when He comes into His kingdom.  When we suffer, we partake in the Passion of Christ, and His Passion includes His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection.  The Passion of Joan of Arc underscores this belief in a way that few other films do.

Content Advisory: Brief shot of breastfeeding with partial nudity, a scene of bleeding, a scene of incineration, a riot, and threatened torture.                        Not rated.

Suggested Audience: Kids and up with discernment.

Personal Recommendation: A+

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