For Reel

The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962)
January 23, 2012, 2:18 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Robert Bresson

Though it is often compared to Carl Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Robert Bresson’s similarly conceived The Trial of Joan of Arc has little else in common with the silent great. Whereas Dreyer cast professional actors in the roles of the judges, whose faces would distort and grimace to a nauseating, terrifying effect, Bresson’s cast is entirely nonprofessional and their characterizations comparatively restrained. Maria Falconetti’s Joan, certainly among the finest performances on film, was often shot in close-up, with her flowing tears suggesting the profound anguish that she felt during the trial. Florence Delay’s representation, however, is much more elusive and difficult to identify with. This almost Brechtian approach is fitting for a picture so fascinated with the history of the trial, as it stubbornly presents only what the documents suggest to be the fact. While the film’s distance is a significant detractor for some, the proceedings are far from tedious. The structure attributes to the sense of hopelessness, in first involving the judicial questioning, and then depicting scenes of Joan in her cell as the authorities and guards peer in through a peephole and discuss the importance of having her executed as soon as possible. Through his framing, Bresson’s images exude a palpable sense of entrapment – the stoic priests in black and white garbs form a menacing backdrop during her trial, and the peephole scenes, which are among the very few long shots in the film, restrict Joan even further to a smaller frame-within-a-frame. The picture has a radically different approach than Dreyer’s version, and, though the comparison is perhaps inevitable, Bresson’s effort has been wrongly maligned by some because of association.

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