Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cutting into the world: La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc tears and tears, bleeds.

by Ryland Walker Knight


Dreyer cuts space apart to the point that it isn't even something to talk about. La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc has no need for spatial (or, for that matter, temporal) terms. Of course we're given the unity of the single day, and the stations of the cross, as it were, but every image in the film is expression; there's no real interest in representation. "The close-up is the face." It's a film of faces big and small and brimming and dead and burnt and crying and alive and inanimate. Hooks jutting across a frame are a face of terror and pain; the stake aflame with a cross behind, a face lifting us out of the world; the sacrament raised in prayer, a face of dignity; Jeanne's torn blanket a metonymic version of her, an echo of her arm's pump. It's as pure a film, as purely affective a film, as I have ever seen. But its grammar is miles from what PTA's been developing. In fact, not that this is fair or equivalent, his grammar seems much more akin to something like what Tony Scott habitually falls just short of despite his best efforts. It helps to have something to say, but, and I mean this, those last three Tony Scott movies, tied as they are to plot, deliver a lot of goods in purely formal registers; it reaches an apogee in Deja Vu's little room, and then loses itself, but pretty much the whole of Domino is fascinating, lively, expressive filmmaking. And Dreyer edits fast. (Much more interesting, though, than Tony over there.) In ten seconds you can see a baby suckling, Jeanne clutching a crucifix, the baby pull away from the tit, a man without a face pull away the cross from Jeanne's clutches, and the baby returning to the milk. A tidy circuit of give and take. It's phenomenal, really. I can't believe it's taken me so long to find my way to this master of cinema. Also, a hilarious footnote here: what a political film!

rend it open

[We need reasons to believe in this world, even as we rend it open. Find more by clicking here.]


  1. Yeah, this is a great one. And that 'bleeding' scene is hard to watch, knowing it was no special effect, but an unlucky double who bleed real blood...

  2. yea, a pretty rough moment. but gorgeous, too. maybe i'm too easily seduced by images, but this is such a beautiful film despite being swamped by those deadly faces of evil and malice. the machinations of the limited... scary.