La passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer
As far back as I can remember, I have always been at odds with religion. I feel it is an exercise in futility, for it tries to compartmentalize all of God’s teachings into human ways. I could never make sense of this notion, for how could we perceive his teachings in our ways when his ways were so different from our own ? I asked my parents, who asked me to pray for faith to God. I was further befuddled. How could I pray for faith to God when I needed faith to believe in him in the first place ? All these quandaries and sixteen years later, I find myself quoting Garrison Keillor in saying ‘Anyone who thinks sitting in church can make you a Christian must also think that sitting in a garage can make you a car.’ Religion is a journey outwards, it perceives you as a societal being and attempts to mould you in its most ideal version. So, a case can be made that society probably invented religion and made God the propreitor to sanctify its hold. However spirituality, on the other hand, is a whole different case.
The Passion of Joan Of Arc by Carl Dreyer is a spiritual movie. It will reaffirm for some and rekindle in most (even I belong to the latter) their faiths. Joan of Arc, one of France’s most unfortuante daughters, and the trial which lead to her execution forms the crux of the movie. Joan is played, or to put it more correctly, lived by Renee Falconetti. The judges are full of spite against Joan for proclaiming herself as the daughter of God and her mission as the work of God through her, and want her to sign a confession which asseverates that is rather Satan who has worked through her. I haven’t more to say since this is all there is to it, and nor should I say more, for anything more than this should be experienced in its full glory and pain on film rather than be diminished of its greatness in mentions even as humble as this.
The trial sequence is heartbreaking, because it less Chayefsky and more Bresson. It is completely one-sided, with judges hurling questions which Joan is utterly clueless about. Tears continually stream from her eyes, at her naiveness and the even bigger one of the judges. Falconetti’s performance (although it feels wrong even now to confine it just in the realms of a ‘performance’) is to acting what 2001 is to cinema. I want to list every single gesture she makes, every stare, every smile and even the blanks, and talk about how every one of them defines and accentuates the moment in which it is delivered. I want to do all that and more, but I will never know where to start or where to end. So the only thing that I can bring myself to say is that one day, I hope I bring myself to a position where I feel that I can deserve to write about it.
That last bit holds true for the movie as well, but the thing is, I do know of three or four dogged minds who might not have heard of this work, and do love me enough to read till here. And now I beg of you, watch this movie. I hope you understand why I said beg instead of ask. I hope you understand why I can’t talk about Falconetti. And I sure hope you understand how when one of the judges says to Joan that it wasn’t God that commanded her, that he is right and wrong at the same time. Right, because it is Joan herself who posed the command. Wrong, because the kingdom of heaven is within onself.
And I hope you know why this is for Joan :-
‘Baby Jesus, meek and mild
Pray for me, an orphan child
Be my guide, be my friend,
Be with me, until the end
Written by Anand Nair