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Carl Dreyer's deeply moving biopic features one of the most desperate, brilliant performances ever captured in cinema’s history. Actress Renée Falconetti, as the 19 year old Joan condemned to death, was brutally forced by Dreyer to kneel on stone to show the pain on her face. Few ﬁlms since have used close-ups as intensely and overwhelmingly.
The Passion of Joan of Arc remains an unassailable giant of early cinema, a transcendental film comprising tears, fire and madness that relies on extreme close-ups of the human face. Renée Falconetti was 35 when she played the role of Joan (a teenager when condemned to death in 1431). Dreyer brutally extracted a desperate, brilliant performance from the actress, forcing her to kneel on stone to show the pain on her face and insisting that they shot in silence. In the 2012 Sight and Sound poll, Joan had risen to no. 9. But in 2010 it was designated the most influential film of all time in the Toronto International Film Festival’s ‘Essential 100’ list, where Jonathan Rosenbaum described it as “the pinnacle of silent cinema – and perhaps of the cinema itself”.