Dreyer’s film (a masterpiece of cinema art, yes, yes) actually has a lot in common with that other Passion movie. Neither have anything resembling a backstory (luckily, I know most of the Joan of Arc saga from that Luc Besson film) or a plot. Basically, all that happens here is that Joan, looking quite unappealing in close up, is yelled at by some judges. She mumbles some psycho bullshit about being sent by God to smite the British. (Would God really choose the Brits over the French? I’ll have to mull this one over for a while.) The judges, also looking heinous in close up, yell at her and say she must repent. She will not. So they take her to a torture room. Here, Dreyer parts company with Mel Gibson, because no actual torturing takes place. Joan passes out before we get to see any of that. Then she is threatened with burning at the stake. Joan’s eyes go wide. Oy, do they go wide. Just when you think her eyes can’t get any wider or any more glassy, there she goes. Finally, she agrees to repent. She signs some piece of paper and is allowed to eat a Ritz cracker. Then her eyes go even wider, she cries even more, and then rescinds her repentance. You know the rest from the Smiths song: The flames rose to her Roman nose and her walkman started to melt. After she is dead, the crowd yells “she was a Saint!” I say, Fuck Joan of Arc. She was just some chick who needed a nice perscription of Risperdol, not to be canonized. If I were British, I’d be pretty pissed off at the Catholic Church for canonizing her. She was a partisan during war and she got caught and they killed her. End of story. Would you blame the USA for killing bin Laden? That’s what Joan was to the Brits! She led the French in battle and kicked some ass and the Brits caught her and kicked her ass right back. Take it like a man and die like a soldier, don’t waaah waaaah waaaah cry with some bullshit story about you are a messenger from God! That’s just like saying, “the devil made me do it.” Anyway, all this aside, the film is fine if you like this sort of thing. The photography is striking (I won’t say beautiful because the woman who plays Joan is, in my opinion, butt ugly) and the Criterion’s transfer has a remarkable silver sheen. I couldn’t really get into it because I kept rooting for the bad guys to torch this whiny, holier-than-thou 19 year old skank too stupid to avoid a flaming pile of wood for a phoney baloney God who obviously didn’t love her.
Jordan Hoffman is a New York-based writer and film critic working for The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Thrillist, Times of Israel, NY Daily News and elsewhere.
He is the host of ENGAGE: The Official Star Trek Podcast, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and challenges you to a game of backgammon.