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2019 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Two – THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC

Posted on Oct 19, 2019 by | 0 comments

The Passion of Joan of Arc

One of the yearly highlights of the Milwaukee Film Festival is the single screening of a silent film. After last year’s screening of the very weird A PAGE OF MADNESS, it’s not a surprise that they would return to safer ground. That is, if you can call a flat out masterpiece like THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC “safe”.

 

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is one of the most acclaimed films of the silent era. Almost 90 years later, it remains a film of undeniable power and vitality. Seeing it projected on the big screen in front of a large audience only underlines the ability of the film to fascinate and inspire.

Much has been written on the film over the years. But, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s depiction of the trial and execution of Joan remains a revolutionary use of cinema. They spent an enormous amount on sets, only for the sets to be relegated to pure background as the film focuses on faces. It makes the film remarkably intimate. And, it blows up even minor tics and tears to enormous emotional power.

At the center, is the undeniably great performance by Maria Falconetti. It’s one of the greatest in all of cinema and unforgettable. Her Joan is undeniably human, fragile, and afraid. A 19 year old woman who’s only support is her faith. And it is sorely tested, by trickery of experienced men and by torture, or at least the threat of. Despite it all, she has this faraway gleam in her eye as if she can see the glory of Heaven that the earthbound men in the room cannot see.

In the light of the #metoo movement, the film remains eerily relevant. A 19 year old peasant girl who led armies that defeated the English can’t be seen as anything but a threat to the order. A tool of Satan, not of God. A single woman standing up to the all male power elite cannot be tolerated in the film. Even if its their male shadows that blot out the shadow of the cross.

Milwaukee Film has a gift for turning their screenings into live events. Perhaps no more so than their silent screenings which always feature a live accompaniment. This year, they brought in musician and composer George Sarah who brought a string quartet, choral singers, and some electronic accompaniment to the performance.

Music, specifically Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light”, brought me to THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC. And the film remains a blank slate to music, transforming what accompanies it into something unique and moving. George Sarah’s work fits very well with the images. It’s atmospheric and minimal, always working to support the film without drawing too much attention to itself. Here’s a taste below.

THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC is a work of astonishing cinematic power. Last night’s screening at the Milwaukee Film Festival only reaffirmed that. There will be many significant films at the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival. It’s unlikely that any of those screenings will have the power to move and inspire and this one.

The 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from October 17, 2019 to October 31, 2019. Information and tickets can be found at Milwaukee Film’s website mkefilm.org.

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Robert Reineke
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