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.