• Realized Mysticism in The Passion of Joan of Arc

    By Carl Theodor Dreyer

    The virgin of Orleans and those matters that surrounded her death began to interest me when the shepherd girl’s canonization in 1920* once again drew the attention of the public-at-large to the events and actions involving her—and not only in France. In addition to Bernard Shaw’s ironical play, Anatole France’s learned thesis aroused great interest, too. The more familiar I became with the historical material, the more anxious I became to attempt to re-create the most important periods of the virgin’s life in the form of a film.

    Even beforehand, I was aware that this project made specific demands. Handling the theme on the level of a costume film would probably have permitted a portrayal of the cultural epoch of the fifteenth century, but would have merely resulted in a comparison with other epochs. What counted was getting the spectator absorbed in the past; the means were multifarious and new.

    A thorough study of the documents from the rehabilitation process was necessary; 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. What streams out to the possibly moved spectator in strange close-ups is not accidentally chosen. All these pictures express the character of the person they show and the spirit of that time. In order to give the truth, I dispensed with “beautification.” My actors were not allowed to touch makeup and powder puffs. I also broke with the traditions of constructing a set. Right from the beginning of shooting, I let the scene architects build all the sets and make all the other preparations, and from the first to the last scene everything was shot in the right order. Rudolf Maté, who manned the camera, understood the demands of psychological drama in the close-ups and he gave me what I wanted, my feeling and my thought: realized mysticism.

    But in Falconetti, who plays Joan, I found what I might, with very bold expression, allow myself to call “the martyr’s reincarnation.”

    Reprinted by permission of the Danish Film Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark


  • By Anna T.
    May 23, 2011
    11:46 AM

    Hi Annika, It was originally published as a statement from Dreyer at the time of the film's release (1928).
  • By MDHendrickson
    January 12, 2015
    09:23 AM

    Amazing! In the director's own words. The Passion was certainly a triumph for Dreyer's career. "A hymn to the triumph of the soul over life" that's exactly the impression the film gave me.