Twenty-first century movie fans would never have seen this 1928 silent masterpiece if not for an employee of a mental institution in Oslo, Norway, who found some film canisters in a janitor's closet in 1981.

The canisters, which were labeled "The Passion of Joan of Arc," were sent to the Norwegian Film Institute, where they were in storage for three years before being examined. The prints were discovered to be the original, uncensored cut of director Theodor's Dreyer's landmark version of the trial of Joan of Arc.

Jeanne d'Arc (1412-1431) was a humble French peasant who was granted sainthood in 1920 by the Catholic Church. Her preference for men's clothes, the "celestial voices" who inspired her to be a great military leader and her eventual capture by the English Army have made her mythical life the subject of many books, plays, paintings and films. Dreyer's account focuses on just one day during her trial (and eventual execution) for heresy and is based on transcripts from the trial.

Criterion's digitally restored transfer of the original cut includes an interview with Falconetti's daughter and is accompanied by a mesmerizing oratorio, Voices of Light, composed by Richard Einhorn and performed by the vocal quartet Anonymous 4. Although created for and inspired by the film, Voices of Light is a gem that stands on its own.

Dreyer discovered actress Renee Maria Falconetti while she was performing in a theater in Paris, and thought she had the perfect face for the role -- an important consideration in the era of silent film. The movie is, in fact, almost nothing but faces and architecture filmed close-up and at odd angles. This was Falconetti's first and only movie not surprising, perhaps, since Dreyer forced her to kneel for long periods of time on stone while keeping her face impassive in order to convey inner pain.

"It may be the finest performance ever recorded on film,'' wrote film critic Pauline Kael, and the performance was ranked 26th in Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time.

Passion of Joan of Arc (DVD)

Richard Einhorn: Voices of Light (Music CD)

Written by Lisa on December 4, 2012


angela on December 4, 2012


Wow, that really is an amazing performance.

Rose Ann on December 11, 2012


I agree a great performance. Great review Lisa and love the video.

Jimi99 on December 15, 2012


I feel sorry for everyone who for over 50 years could only see a patched-together version of the film, much of it outtakes. It is truly a masterpiece, and its discovery was a blessing for all cinephiles.

Frank on December 17, 2012


I watched clips of this recently. It's pretty amazing. Thanks for the review Lisa!

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