Some have called this one of the greatest films ever made. While each individual viewer can decide the veracity of that superlative, The Passion of Joan of Arc is fundamentally great.
For most of its running time, Writer/Director Carl Th. Dreyer approaches this film as if it were an intimate all-access documentary (he even includes an actual bloodletting). It is an approach that works well, holding the viewer’s interest throughout.
His decision to use almost exclusively close ups of actors’ faces works just as well. The close ups keep our focus on the characters and their psychological endurance.
Which in turn means Dreyer successfully develops complex people.
The actors are very good, communicating everything we need to know.
Dreyer’s timeless themes of remaining true to ourselves and holding firm to our convictions still apply, whether or not we are religious.
If the director makes a mistake, it is in fictionalizing a riot against the church following Joan’s (Maria Falconetti) death. That this riot never happened in reality isn’t the fundamental issue; it’s that the riot has a different, more sensational tone from the rest of his movie and is thereby a tad off-putting.
But given that the riot comes at the end of the film, it is a minor flaw. This picture is excellent.