Joan of Arc Heresy

For various reasons, I’ve been on a Joan of Arc kick recently (actually, d’Arc is more accurate, since Joan is from the village of Domremy and “d’Arc” is literally her father’s surname, but it’s a bit late now to fight that battle, I think). I’ve read Mark Twain’s “Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc”, watched a half hour of the 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, and watched the 1948 Ingrid Bergman “Joan of Arc”. My thoughts:

Twain’s Joan of Arc is superb. He really gets across, very strongly, that Joan of Arc was a teenage girl. She is very much that in Twain’s version of the story, and this more than any other aspect of her character shines. This was obviously very important to him, and I can see why for reasons I’ll get to in a bit.

Despite having a somewhat mixed overall reception, I quite liked the Ingrid Bergman Joan of Arc film. Bergman shines as the title character, convincingly pulling off Joan both as the frightened teenage girl on trial and the inspirational leader guided by God. She is obviously too old for the role but this is really only something you think about in retrospect; as you watch it Bergman manages to suspend your disbelief. Jose Ferrer as Charles VII is standout.

Now here is my Joan of Arc heresy: I realize I am literally the only person in the wold who has ever said this, but I don’t think Renee Falconetti , from the 1928 silent film, makes a particularly good Joan of Arc.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The first isn’t really Falconetti’s fault, but she is clearly in her 30’s. Joan died at the age of 19. I recognize that this may sound somewhat hypocritical after talking about the also way-too-old Bergman, but they at least TRIED to make her up and dress her in such a way that she seemed younger. Falconetti LOOKS her age, and it’s distracting. This is especially glaring after reading Twain’s distinctly teenage Joan.

More directly though, I don’t think Falconetti’s acting fits the person of Joan of Arc.

Hear me out here. Falconetti – whose performance has been universally praised as one of the greatest in cinema history – is flawless as a lonely, frightened girl struggling to keep her courage and her sanity while surrounded on all sides by terrible and uncaring men. Her face is expressive, her ability to conjure up a single tear apparently on command almost eerie. I have no criticism of her acting of the character she’s portraying. My issue is with that character.

There is no confidence to Falconetti’s Joan. Those who have watched the 1928 film – and it is worth a look – answer me honestly: Does Falconetti’s Joan look like she could have ever commanded an army? No, right?

Can you imagine Falconetti’s Joan locking her jailer in her cell and escaping prison, only to be caught by the sentry? Of course you can’t. The very idea is absurd; she oozes helplessness, it’s practically her defining character trait. Yet the real Joan of Arc did exactly that.

Falconetti’s Joan looks hysterically upset at practically everything. A paper is shoved in her face, and she is in tears, her eyes wide and panicked. It’s expressive, it’s infused with personality, it makes you feel horrible for the poor girl. It isn’t Joan of Arc.

I don’t know. I’m really on an island here. Next up will be the Bresson film from the 60’s, “The Trial of Joan of Arc”. I’ve heard he also wasn’t a big fan of the 1928 silent film, but I don’t know why. I wonder what his Joan will be like.

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6 Responses to Joan of Arc Heresy

  1. Chad says:

    Hmmmm. Hadn’t thought of that when I watched the movie, I think I attributed it to that being the time where she was left by God and the saints to silence while undergoing the trials, with her own dark night of the soul, confusion, and fears.

    Let me know what you think of the other films, I’m unfamiliar with them but would watch them if you find them enjoyable

    • Joan wasn’t left by God and the Voices though. Sure they leave her alone for awhile, but not for any longer stretch then they’d left her in the past. In fact – the 1928 movie even references this – Joan is promised rescue by the voices (which she eventually interprets to mean her martyrdom, of course), which makes her tearful, horrified reactions to everything even stranger. Does she look like a woman who has been promised rescue by God and the Saints?

      Moreover, Joan simply wasn’t a muddle of confusion and fear during her captivity. In fact, it is quite the contrary – she nearly escapes on her own twice (Again, once even locking her jailer inside her own cell!), she answers every question skillfully, and she only repudiates her voices – possibly, depending on what she thought she signed – after sickness and the immediate threat of fire staring her in the face, and she regains her courage within a day.

      Falconetti plays her role beautifully, even flawlessly, but it doesn’t come across as Joan to me. But again – literally nobody but me thinks this.

      The 1948 Joan of Arc is highly recommended, for Bergman and Ferrer if for no other reason.

      • Chad says:

        Got it. I’ll have to reread the retrial of Joan, it’s been a while and the time lines and facts get muddled in my head. Thanks for the clarification

      • I am reading the re-trial right now. It has this to say about Joan:

        “I remember that incomplete questions were often put to Jeanne, and many and difficult interrogations were made together; then, before she could answer one, another would put a question; so that she was displeased, saying, “Speak one after the other.” I marveled that she could so answer the subtle and captious questions put to her; no man of letters could have replied better.”

        Falconetti, imo, does not have the spunk to be correcting her captors like this. Nor do her responses – repeatedly referred to as brilliant – read like a confused and frightened girl, but someone who is confident in God and His promises.

        Again, she only sort of kind of maybe recants with the direct threat of fire hanging over her, and by the next day she regrets it.

        IDK though. Maybe I’m not giving enough credit to Falconetti.

      • Incidentally, I found the source I was looking for to show that Joan had not been abandoned by her voices:

        “That it was made without help, Joan would have utterly denied. Many times a day she sought and received the counsel of her voices: at noontime while the court took a recess, at evening or waking in the morning, now and then even in the courtroom. Sometimes she had only the sense of their presence, sometimes they advised her what to say, often they told her to ‘answer boldly, and that God would help her.'”

      • Chad says:

        Thanks. I appreciate you putting that here when you found it.

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