A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Trial of Joan of Arc (Robert Bresson, 1962)


There are two great Joan of Arc films: The other one is Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). But comparing them is tricky: Dreyer's film was made in a different medium. Silent movies are not just movies without sound: They necessitate entirely different narrative techniques. Dreyer let the stunning quality of his images of the suffering Joan and the cruel and often grotesque interrogators and the crowd at her immolation do much of the business of characterizing and story-telling. According to an admirer of Bresson's, screenwriter-director Paul Schrader, Bresson disliked this about Dreyer's film, and it shows in the deliberate blandness of face and image in The Trial of Joan of Arc. The settings and costumes are generic and undistinguished, and they are lighted flatly, giving the film the banal look of the era's television dramas. As usual, Bresson has chosen unknown or non-professional actors, starting with his Joan, Florence Carrez. (Carrez was her mother's surname; she later took her father's surname, becoming Florence Delay, the name under which she became a successful novelist, playwright, and actress.) Compared to Renée Falconetti's magnificently haunting Joan in Dreyer's film, Carrez's performance is almost deadpan: She unemotionally responds to even the most provocative of her judges' questions, which Bresson took verbatim from the transcripts of the trial. On the whole, I think Bresson's austere style serves the material: When Carrez sheds a tear or even slightly raises her voice, it makes an emotional impact. By withholding so much dramatic visual information throughout the film, Bresson makes a few incidental moments the more powerful, as when we see a member of the crowd stick out a foot to trip Joan on the way to the stake, or when, as she is ascending the steps to the pyre, a small dog comes out of the crowd and stares up at her. On the whole, I prefer Dreyer's film, but I'm glad to have Bresson's as a contrast.

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