Well, once again it’s time to do some catching up, this time with the very first feature film that honorary short-master Phong Nguyen presented. Along with the film, he also presented a short which was entitled “Frere Jacques”. Memories fade (this was just a hint under six years ago) but I think that given the fact that I can’t find any record of it in IMDB or on YouTube, that this film might be one of the self-produced shorts that Phong presented. Perhaps the one starring the long-departed Tim Woods from the Recanzone Lab. I don’t recall.
Phong’s feature presentation, which recently showed up on TCM, was the famed Carl Theodor Dreyer silent classic known as “La passion de Jeanne d’Arc” (translation not provided). Let’s see what this film was all about…in real time!
This is apparently the 1985 restoration, because it’s 22 minutes shorter than the original cut. Blah blah blah original cut lost in fire, etc. They think this cut is probably very close to the original, outside of being shorter, I guess.
Spoiler alert – the trial in this film will result in Joan’s death! The film is pretty explicit (pardon its French!) in being taken from the records of Joan’s trial itself. The trial is like most medieval inquests, except for the fact that the bailiffs all seems to wear chamberpots on their heads and the accused is France’s first cross-dresser.
I should point out that while Maria Falconetti is highly praised for her role, her only technique appears to be “shocked face!”
At the trial the accusers (read: the church) try to trip Joan up by using their tricksy words and showing off their disgusting warts. Joan finally confesses that God has promised her that she will be delivered from the prison, though she knows neither the day nor the hour. Apparently this isn’t enough to make a blasphemy charge stick so they get out some royal letterhead and forge a letter from the King, then play a classic Good-Cop/Bad-Cop routine, having the good cop read a letter saying that King Charles needs her to lead an army somewhere and has sent good cop to aid her.
Somehow having a friend in good cop loosens Joan’s tongue a bit – she claims to be the daughter of God, recites the Lord’s Prayer, and says she will be delivered from the prison in a great victory (if by victory, He means “blaze of glory”)! Still, she refuses to claim she is in a state of grace (that is, assured of her salvation), rather responding that if she is, may God keep her there, and if she is not, may God grant it her. She does refuse to remove her men’s clothes in order to attend Mass, and you know what that means…
Time to prepare the torture chamber! While the torture chamber is being prepared, Joan is visited by an early version of the Three Stooges, who taunt her by putting her own sisal crown on her head. Pretty rough stuff, and it makes the subsequent trip to the torture chamber seem like a welcome respite. Well, especially considering that the trip to the torture chamber consists of the judges trying to convince Joan that her visions of St. Michael were really visions of the devil. She is threatened with excommunication if she does not confess, but seems to rejoice in the possibility that she will be left alone with God.
A man cranks a wheel. It’s spiky. There’s an iron maiden, and it’s spiky too. Joan faints. So much for the torture chamber. Instead, they bleed her, and if piercing that artery in her arm was a special effect, it was a really good one for 1928. I’m thinking this was a sacrifice for the craft of acting (though the camera angle could certainly have allowed it to be a different actor).
Due to her weakness, Joan believes that she is about to die, and she wishes to be buried on sacred ground. The Church offers this and more – the Sacraments and a Holy Communion. On the condition that she sign her confession, of course. They turn her refusal to sign a bogus confession into a repudiation of God. She still refuses to sign, so Cardinal Biggles brings out the Comfy Chair.
Just kidding – they send her to the executioner. If she doesn’t sign the confession, she’ll be burned at the stake. Good cop says the King needs her. But come on, what are they going to do if she signs? Kill her, right? So hey, at least she’s prepared to go out with dignity, right? Nope, she signs, with good cop guiding her hand. And apparently they sentence her to perpetual imprisonment eating the bread of sorrow and drinking the water of anguish. And a Samson-shearing. Huh.
But when they scoop up her sisal crown with her clippings, she decides to recant her confession – she realized she denied God for mere cravenness of fire. And so her victory is her martyrdom and her deliverance is death. At least they’re nice enough to give her the Sacraments and a final confession anyway. So there’s a communion service and then a nice Sunday afternoon barbeque.
After Joan’s death scene (a particularly long and poignant and burny one, to be sure), the peasants revolt, so the church kills them with maces, spears, and cannons. The End.
This movie taught me that people are jerks. Thanks, people, for really sucking! No really, this whole movie is about “We don’t like you, so we’re going to try to trick you into getting yourself in trouble, and then when you cleverly refuse to do it, we’ll just kill you anyway, for your own good. Oh, and if anybody else doesn’t like it, they can eat hot metal death.” Isn’t that sweet?