A masterpiece of the History of Cinema, it is essential to understand the silent era and contains the performance of Maria Falconetti, for decades considered one of the best performances in history.
After having led the French in numerous battles against the English during the Hundred Years' War, Joan of Arc is captured near Compiegne and eventually brought to Rouen, Normandy to stand trial for heresy by French clergymen loyal to the English.
On 30 May 1431, Joan is interrogated by the French clerical court. Her judges, who are on the side of the Burgundian-English coalition, and against the King of France, try to make her say something that will discredit her claim or shake her belief that she has been given a mission by God to drive the English from France, but she remains steadfast.
Dreyer was invited to make a film in France by the Société Gėnėrale des Films and proposed a film about Marie Antoinette, Catherine de Medici, or Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc was in the news after World War I, having been canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 1920, and named one of the patron saints of France. Dreyer spent over a year and a half researching Joan, the script based on the original transcripts of her trial, condensing 29 interrogations over the course of 18 months into one day.
The film was shot on one huge concrete set modeled on medieval architecture in order to realistically portray the Rouen prison. The film is known for its cinematography and use of close-ups. Dreyer also didn't allow the actors to wear make-up and used lighting designs that made the actors look more grotesque. Prior to its release, the film was controversial due to French nationalists' skepticism about whether a Danish person could direct a film that centered on one of France's most revered historical icons. Dreyer's final version of the film was cut down due to pressure from the Archbishop of Paris and from government censors. For several decades, it was released and viewed in various re-edited versions that had attempted to restore Dreyer's final cut. In 1981, a film print of Dreyer's final cut of the film was finally discovered in Gaustad Hospital, a mental institution in Oslo, Norway, and re-released.
Despite the objections and cutting of the film by clerical and government authorities, it was a major critical success when first released and has consistently been considered one of the greatest films ever made since 1928.
The camerawork of The Passion of Joan of Arc was highly unconventional in its radical emphasis on the actors' facial features. Dreyer often shot the priests and Joan's other interrogators in high contrast lighting, but then shot Joan in soft, even lighting. Rudolph Maté's high-contrast cinematography also allowed unappealing details in people's faces, such as warts and lumps, to be fully visible.
The film and Falconetti's performance have continued to be praised by critics. Pauline Kael wrote that Falconetti's portrayal "may be the finest performance ever recorded on film." Roger Ebert praised the film and said that "You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renée Maria Falconetti."
Prior to its release, the film was controversial due to French nationalists' skepticism about whether a Danish person could direct a film that centered on one of France's most revered historical icons.
Caspervek's Soundtrack for The Passion of Joan of Arc premiered at Conde Duque Cultural Center in Madrid in the summer of 2016. Two years later, after an agreement with the Rías Baixas Chamber Choir, Brais González began working on a new choral score, keeping some of the original melodic material and adding many new elements. Furthermore, the new soundtrack was written to be used as a separate concert piece, thus also creating the "Missa Ioanna Arcensis", a requiem mass that was performed in different cities in Spain.
The premiere of the new score along with the film took place during the Nas Ondas Festival in Vigo in 2019. It has been Caspervek's most ambitious project to date. For that occasion, a choir of 24 singers and an ensemble of 12 musicians met on stage and brought to life Brais González' score, which combines sacred minimalism, medieval music, elements of contemporary music and pre-recorded electronics.