Sight & Sound Poll 2012: The Passion of Joan of Arc

On Film / Short Takes — Sep 18, 2012

Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.

It’s difficult to envision a purer, more pared-down work of cinematic art than Carl Theodor Dreyer’s wrenching, intensely focused 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc. The film is often talked about in terms of its use of the close-up, and indeed, its most memorable visual component is the central, repeated image of Renée Falconetti as the martyred Maid of Orleans, her haunted face so tightly framed, looming so large that we can’t escape her fear, sadness, and horror—or her final spiritual elation. The Passion is perhaps a tribute even more to the power of the cinematic image than to its sainted subject; it reveals that certain elements of human feeling are constant through the centuries. Dreyer wrote, “I did not study the clothes of the time, and things like that. The year of the event seemed as inessential to me as its distance from the present. I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life.” Watch a clip from the film below that beautifully evokes that soul, as Joan faces her accusers at the terrible end of her trial.