This 1928 silent film is emotionally wrenching. We follow a fictionalized account of the “trial” of Joan of Arc by an English-controlled religious court. The “trial” spans a day leading up to her being burned at the stake.
The movie concentrates on the emotional and spiritual trauma of Joan as she faces her accusers. They attempt to have her deny her fundamental belief that God had chosen her to lead a war against foreign invaders. While the accusers are members of the religious hierarchy, the control of the foreign invaders over the effort is made obvious by presence in the court of solders.
How true this all is is impossible for me to say, even though we hear in the commentary many details about how original court sources provided input to the ultimate script. What is true is how emotionally involving this all is. The constant use of close-ups emphasizes the smallest detail of each participant’s thoughts and feelings. The lack of makeup and the sensitive black and white photography display every tear, line, and wrinkle with unusual clarity. The off-center semi-impressionistic sets and windows along with unique and unusual camera angles and shadows heighten the stress and near-unreality of what is being portrayed.
A wonderful accompaniment to this Criterion DVD is inclusion of a modern music soundtrack to accompany the silent film, a work that was written with this film in mind: Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” which expresses both medieval and modern orchestral ideas in concert with the images on the screen. Also included is a detailed commentary, very academic, that is both insightful and interesting.
Ultimately, though, the viewer is left with a sense of amazement that a film made so early in the history of the cinema still makes such an incredibly strong emotional impact, despite the huge advances made in all aspects of communications and media technology. This film is simply an enduring and great work of art.