#484 Week End (1967)

Week End is easily the most bizarre of Jean-Luc Godard’s films. A strange satire rife with paint-blood contrasted with striking real violence, this radical film presents an episodic, loose, audacious storyline that moves from “a mundane phone conversation becom(ing) an absurdly charming musical number, (to) our heroes encounter(ing) fairy-tale characters in the woods, (to) main characters meet(ing) grisly ends at, really, any time at all….(and a) traffic jam-interrupted by Godard’s irrepressible penchant for didactic, elliptical intertitles…(featuring) zoo animals, boats, an occasional picnic, and a hell of a lot of blood (that) the director once famously said, its nothing to worry about: It’s really only red paint” (de Seife).

What we are left with is a sharp satire that breaks many rules of filmmaking. The result is a piece that was relatively divisive between the two of us. No matter what the opinion, it’s absolutely clear that this film made a striking impact on Before We Die Films.

We watched Week End on Criterion DVD (#635).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weekend_(1967_film)

Jennifer

So, wow.  The first half of this film I found very disorienting and disconcerting. Godard’s piece is another film from the mid-1960s (we’ve seen a few from our list, recently) that turns traditional movie narrative structure on its head by inter-cutting somewhat mundane scenes with shockingly graphic and gratuitous chaos.  This is not a film that you can relax with some popcorn. There’s no relaxing. No part of this movie is predictable except for the fact that every scene seems to have more shock value than the last.

I can’t say that this is one of my favorite films on our list or even one that I’d watch again, but it is also like no movie I have ever seen. I can appreciate the bold and quite ambitious message this film delivers to its audience.

Garrett

I thought this film was pretty innovative and amazing – but the caveat is, it is pretty innovative and amazing for what it is. This isn’t a film with a clear linear narrative structure, nor is it a film whose job it is to make the audience feel. As a matter of fact, I think its job is to do quite the opposite, that is, to make the audience aware of their own desensitization and laugh at our own ignorance of what life truly is via his narrative. As the characters are desensitized in the film about everything from traffic to cannibalism to extreme violence to magic, miracles, music, colonialization, exploitation, and even the what little remains of story itself, it is clear our reaction (mirrored by those of our two main protagonists) is meant to be that this is simply a film that is a statement and realize that we shouldn’t look beyond the surface. It exists as a statement through its strange sketches, overt and confounding use of the Godardian jump cut, extreme color, and fictional characters evoking other real-life and fictional characters, and then literally setting fire to everyone and every thing.

Godard said, “if it would have been possible to make the film dirtier pornography, then I would have.” Every frustration he has comes out in this film. Frustration with form and expression, frustration with war, fascism, and violence, frustration with sex, frustration with consumerism. Every aspect of these frustrations with the world he lives in is illustrated in Weekend, from the senseless, violent slaughter of a pig on camera to a terrifying car accident from which our female protagonist emerges and screams, “my bag! My Hermes bag!” as it burns in the inferno along with several other motorists. The transference of meaning and lens of commentary then transitions to us, the audience. The film begins with a long description of an orgy, and ends with a question – was it a dream or reality? And our character doesn’t know. This statement leads to the literal burning of society in traffic punctuated by miles of bloody car wrecks – sex, violence, frustration, exploitation. The dirtiest pornography that, of course, ends in a literal slaughter and characters feasting on the meat of other characters.

I really enjoyed this film – but the problem with Weekend is that it is what it is… A beautiful museum piece whose ‘end of cinema’ occurs precisely in 1966. It is a commentary on humanity that remains frozen in a specific social time and place, and while it is extremely successful at what it is and we still struggle with the same issues today, it lacks the heartbeat of a narrative that awakens our hearts. But the thing is, to Godard, that is precisely the point.

I read the collected essays that came in the Criterion release book, and they were fantastic studies. Gary Indiana’s analysis breaks down what the film means in its most elemental forms using bookmarks of events to steer his reading of the piece. Bergala’s excerpt from his book feature behind the scenes interviews and rundowns from the cast and crew, and this is a further dissociation from the final product that offers interesting insight into how their performances and choices transferred to the screen (my two most fascinating ones were Darc’s improvisation of the Hermes line and the fact that she was originally slated to do the opening psychoanalysis scene nude and Godard changed his mind last minute so they had to go out and buy her underwear). Finally, Godard’s interview with Jonathan Cott was fascinating. His genius bleeds through what few sentences come straight from his mouth in twenty-five or so answers. It is easy to be mesmerized by the way his mind makes connections as well as his various responses that work on the micro scale of his film, but also the macro scale of his career and his work’s place in and commentary of the world at large. A beautifully curated collection.

#242 In A Lonely Place (1950)

In a Lonely Place is easily one of Humphrey Bogart’s best roles, effortlessly performing a very personal role in the midst of a noir piece that is unlike any other in his career. When screenwriter Dix Steele is accused of murdering a woman he barely knows for no reason whatsoever, besides a penchant for snapping in short-fused violence, he has to convince his intimate circle that he is innocent of a terrible crime… that he may or may not have committed for no reason besides the thrill of the act. This “(unique) romantic and doom-haunted noir drama” was a fantastic flick (Newman).

We watched In A Lonely Place on Criterion, #810.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_a_Lonely_Place

Jennifer

This movie was definitely not what I was expecting.  We have watched a few noir films from this time,  and this one is by far the bleakest.  Humphrey Bogart gives a performance with such a huge range – he’s charming and witty in one scene, and threatening and violent in the next.  His character changes with little or no warning and with great ferocity.  The story keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat, as you race to figure out who committed the murder set up at the beginning.  Is Gloria Graeme in danger with Bogart?  Is Bogart being set up?  You will change you mind back and forth as this movie makes you doubt what you know, what you think you know, and what you hope is (or is not!) true.

The theme and style is a great blend of the very best of the late 1940’s  and early 1950’s thriller/film noir vibe.  I loved the set and the look of Bogart’s apartment.  I liked this movie particularly because many of the characters are flawed.  There is no happy ending or easy resolution to this movie.  The actors were not hesitant to make themselves prickly or unlikable.

Garrett

I really enjoyed this film, and that is unusual for me because in many instances I have thought that Bogart was an actor with a relatively limited range. Up until this point, I have seen a man who has kept his reputation as a performer perhaps only as far as nostalgia has been able to take him. But in this piece, I was impressed at the range and talent in his characterization of Steele. In one of the Criterion special features we watched, it was apparent that this might have been because it was a character that really helped him process and perform in a manner that was somewhat close to who he was as a person – and it makes sense how this would diverge from the character he usually seems to have ready to go in his back pocket.

I enjoyed this movie. The writing and direction were on point. Some of my favorite elements had to do with some of the exterior shots and the design of the sets that managed to heighten the setting frozen in time a little more intentionally than many of the films from the era. The set itself was based on and duplicated real places where the piece was set, and that certainly helped with this feeling of genuine celluloid reality.

For this film, I did not read Dorothy B. Hughes’ novel, but I was interested to read in Schneider that the ending differs from the original text in one key way. Also, the process and mental mise en scene of the career, art, and anxieties of writing is perfectly captured in this film more than any other than I have seen to this point – except perhaps in Jonze/Kaufman’s Adaptation.

 

Check out this great article from The Library of America’s The Moviegoer, In A Lonely Place: Film Noir as an Opera of Male Fury by Carrie Rickey (linked above)

#485 Le Samouraï (1967)

Le Samouraï is a gorgeous film that is almost definitively 1960s New Wave cinema. In the film, we follow Jef Costello as he tries to navigate the perils of the police and his employers stalking him after a botched hit. Costello is a lone-wolf assassin who balances allegiances with stealth and interpersonal political intrigue. With clockwork-accuracy, Jean-Pierre Melville builds a 1960s Paris universe from the ground up through the lens of his debonair, accurate, stealthy and deliberate contract killer. Costello can only be described as the stereotypical samurai of samurais in the hip French modernist style of the 60s. Melville’s Paris is a world that has never existed and will never exist again – a west-coast-cool Paris in a magnetic hour and a half visual love letter in beautiful color, stark composition, measured framing, gorgeous setting, and sharp costuming. This film, with its angular performances and obsessive shooting, is absolutely gorgeous – from where everything sits in the frame down to the meticulous detail of single gestures. As a “breathtaking work, stylized to the point of asphyxiation…(that has led) Paul Thomas Anderson via Quentin Tarantino and Walter Hill (to plunder) it as the veritable Bible of cool moves,” this flick is as snazzy hot as it gets, and it led Garrett to consider throughout the film, “boy was I born in the wrong year…” (Martin).

We watched Le Samourai on Criterion (#306) that featured two great interviews on the special features.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Samoura%C3%AF

Jennifer

Extraordinary film!  One of the best things about this movie is how the narrative explodes from a seemingly straightforward plot (man kills man, tries to avoid police) to an increasingly intricate and intertwine story.   This movie grabs you from the very first scene and relentlessly holds you tight.  A large chunk of the beginning of the movie has no dialogue, as we watch the protagonist Jef Costello (Alain Delon) in action.  The first few minutes of the movie set the stage for the rest of the narrative to unravel and reveal itself.  Not one moment or scene is wasted.

The movie has an ice cold vibe and is extremely stylized in 1960’s fashion.  Interestingly, Delon’s girlfriend in the movie was his actual wife (at the time of the filming). They have a scorching on-screen chemistry in a movie in which the characters are otherwise unemotional.

Madonna’s 2012 song Beautiful Killer is a tribute to Alain Delon.  In the song, she conjures up moments of Le Samouraï and to Delon’s Jef Costello.

Extremely enjoyable movie to watch.  This is one of the films that makes me grateful for this project – without our 1001 Films Before We Die book, I would not have had the pleasure of viewing this movie.

 

Garrett

But seriously, the whole time I was like, “I was born in the wrong year.”

This movie is too cool for its own good. Alain Delon cuts through Paris with the accuracy of a razor. He is a sexy, sharp, cold man who commands every scene with a single glance. The result is a feeling of freshness and awe as he weaves in and out of the streets and the subways. He not only has command over the audience for the entirety of the film, but in much the same way, all of the characters around him are similarly captivated by him. More than anything, we seemingly feel like we are the ones who can empathize with being bewitched by Costello as much as those around him rather than empathizing with Costello himself.

The music, the costumes, the action, the suspense, the women, the deceit, and the ending all morph together to create a truly excellent film that was a pleasure to watch. Perhaps what is most beautiful about Melville’s film is its attention to detail and obsessive perfection. A true monument that freezes the 1960s in time – an almost hyperreal, perfect 1960s. The 1960s of dreams. The love, the awe, the splendor of 1960s Paris. It was all a great deal of fun to step in and be a part of for an hour and a half.

Fellini 8 1/2 BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#413 8½ (1963)

Fellini’s 8 ½ is a triumph of filmmaking, truth, and the examination of the human experience, frailties, anxieties, and relationships. Fellini manages to create one of the most exploratory and visionary films of all time (and certainly genre-shattering for everything that happened in cinema up to that time) in its two and a half hours. This film seems to be everything at once – and what is most glaringly obvious is that for all of Guido’s anxieties that he is not making a film that is genuine enough, full of bizarre overlays between fantasy, history, and reality, he has made one of the most human films of all time. There is a lot happening, perfectly observed by Jean-Michel Frodon in Schneider as a “story about the anguish of a director having to make a film, about an artist having to make work, about a man having to deal with women, about a human having to face life and death…playing on the frontier between reality and dreams with humor and fear, interrogat(ing) everyone’s relationship with the world, with our parents, our children, the people we work with, the difficulties of getting old, or getting lost, or returning to childhood terrors.” 8½ isn’t simply a film about an anxious filmmaker, but rather, is a film about the sleepy dream of existence and the drowsy, clawing escape called art.

We watched 8½ on Criterion DVD (#140), and enjoyed the second disc of extras which included some really enlightening Fellini and documentaries.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/8%C2%BD

Garrett

As we were watching this film, other works of art and directors came flooding at me. I found myself turning to Jenn and exclaiming, “this is basically the musical Nine” (the musical Nine is actually ), “wow, this reminds me of that movie we watched last year, All That Jazz” (it was based on ), “David Lynch/Tarentino/Charlie Kaufman/Terry Gilliam/etc does (this thing) all the time!” (they most certainly do – they are vocal about how they are influenced by ), and “wasn’t this exact same character in Amarcord in a few different ways?” (they were, duh).  It was easy to examine this film in terms of the major impacts it has on cinema as a whole – and it seems almost like a fruitless endeavor as over and over again it is inescapable that a frame-by-frame analysis would do nothing but lead to connections, connections to connections, and everything in between as the meta-analysis of the art form in all of its modern incantations is connected back to this film once-and-for-all.

But the point of this is only partially to talk about the many, many ways in which a lot of what I have seen and what I enjoy is influenced by this film. I spent days after watching it processing what wonders I beheld in it. There are a few things that really stand out to me as reflective of my life, and I think I can easily organize them into modes of experience.

Art. As a writer and an artist myself, the struggle to create something at an intimate, honest scale is truly a struggle. This film explores that to an almost obsessive-documentary level of accuracy. The paralyzing self-doubt leaks into every avenue of your life, and every element of your life leaks into and tramples on your art no matter what you do. In making something true and honest – something original and real that can essentially portray the entire human experience – you can’t avoid the fact that everything tried to undermine this, from time, to people, to topics, to obligations… In this film, the answer never comes, and yet it does in the very existence of the film itself. Because the film exists and because it is so honest and because Fellini had so many anxieties, by virtue of what the film is, it is exactly what he set out to do. He doesn’t point it out, it just happens. There is no analysis, it just happens. Perfectly.

Women and relationships. There is nothing to be said here except that we are who we are because of everyone that has come before us. Women and men are such different creatures, and in this essence, the femininity and masculinity Fellini presents in this film holds the mirror up to our desires, our fears, and our shortcomings. What we get is the portrait of one man’s experience that is just as relevant to every man’s experience no matter how you cut it – and this honesty was likely a difficult one to face on camera. Fellini took a chance at portraying modern manhood as a protean study of allegiances and definitive exploration into desire and diversity (metaphorically and cringeworthy-literally) because he wanted to portray not what men and women should be, but what they are. In the end, he succeeded at this regardless of how we wish things were.

Family and childhood. There is no doubt that family and childhood have a great influence on the social, emotional, and sexual beings (and artists) that we become. This is all apparent in this film, and while my childhood is nothing like the one in this film, the brilliant little flashes of memory in their high-walled, architectural wastelands and scaffolding is a perfect metaphor of the dreamlike existence of what we are – stark black and white glimpses into our past contrasted against our now-self.

God and mortality. Perhaps this is the biggest difference between Fellini’s film and my experience, but mainly only on the religious front. Every element of faith and one’s place in the world is laid out and hotly debated against the strict guidelines of the Catholic Church. But the sea of characters contains atheists and humanists alongside the believers, and all of them question what it all even means. Death is the final destination of all of the characters in the film, and ourselves. What matters most is the intrinsic drive to accomplishment and happiness where one finds meaning, and in return, that intrinsic reward. The artist’s (and Guido, and my) fallacy, though, is the insatiable hunger to achieve the thing we will never achieve, playing God with our work and never reaching the seventh day. All we can do is try.

This film is truly a masterpiece – one that I will be thinking about for a long time and should revisit now and again. As with Amarcord, Fellini’s ability to capture the human spirit on film is unparalleled. A true masterpiece about life, love, and existence. Most remarkable is the fact that he answers all of these questions without answering any of them… The answers exist within the hearts of his audience, whether artist or art consumer, man or woman, faithful or secular. It is simply a true film – exactly what he set out to create.

Jennifer

This is another movie from the list that I had heard of, and was vaguely aware it was significant, but had never seen.  Although it certainly takes a little while to get acclimated to the pacing and the use of time in this film (fantasy vs. reality, flashbacks, memories) I ended up giving up on trying to make this film have a linear plot and reliable narrator.   This movie is chaotic and I think the key to enjoying it is to not trying to make it fit into tradition tropes or familiar plot patterns.

As I am not a writer or an artist myself, it was an interesting look on the act of creating – a little peek inside the heart and mind of an artist.

#468 Sedmikrásky (Daisies) (1966)

Věra Chytilová’s Sedmikrásky (Daisies) is a 1966 Czechoslovakian allegory that explores the need for a new postwar experience… but the story is told in a magical postmodern whirlwind of feminine power, fearless consumption, and beautiful framing effects. This “madcap and aggressive feminist farce…the most radical film of the decade…(is a) liberating tour de force (that has been called) subversive, bracing, energizing, and rather off-putting (if challenging) to most male spectators” (Rosenbaum, Schneider). Rife with symbolism that delves deep into gender, sexuality, and geopolitics – but can easily be enjoyed on the surface as a whimsical escape from reality – the fun life we lived through the eyes of two girls who shared everything in existence is an artistically cutting edge fun romp in a new world molded from the clay of reality.

We watched Sedmikrásky on Criterion Eclipse.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisies_(film)

Garrett

This is one of the bigger surprises of the year in movies and one more amazing film that I am so happy to have experienced. I knew little of this film prior to watching it, but I did recognize many snippets of it from some strange Internet gifs with Hal-Ashby looking shots and colors and some beautiful subtitles underneath:

This film captured a great deal of everything that I love about the films of Hal Ashby and Wes Anderson, the style that seemed to be prevalent in the era that was similar to early Sesame Street, and the writing and synthesis of big ideas in a simple way that reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s strangely poignant nonsense with a message. This film’s gorgeous experimental style broke the mold on just about everything that I have seen in film – and honestly the directors I mentioned that use these visual tropes all came after Daisies… So it is no wonder that one viewing of this piece can spark inspiration in a filmmaker’s work that can follow them throughout their career and is something I absolutely love.

I wish I was more culturally competent about the context of the piece, because while it is easy to watch on the surface there is no denying that it holds a great deal of political capital in hundreds of ways – including the banning of the film, the shunning of the director  Věra Chytilová, and the virtual disappearance of the film for decades. I know that I am not getting the entirety of the message as someone who has not lived in Czechoslovakia at the time, as an American in 2016, and as a man, among others. Still, Daisies captivated me. I look forward to many additional viewings to try to explore what  Chytilová was doing in this seminal piece.

The wanton performances by  Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová as the two Maries were completely enthralling – as they were able to convince me that they have known each other their entire lives in a manner that I have never seen captured by any two performers. I thought that this must be what a true feminist sisterhood friendship is like, and if it isn’t, it certainly has me nostalgic and wishing for whatever it is.

This film is worthy of viewing after viewing, a gorgeous symbolic masterpiece that is fun to get lost in.

Jennifer

I had no real expectation before viewing this film.  It took me a bit of watching to get the rhythm of the narrative down. There is almost no traditional “plot.”  The two characters don’t grow, change or develop. This movie does not tell a story in a tradition narrative trajectory.  Instead, the two protagonists, Marie and Marie, declare the world “spoiled,” and decide they must be “spoiled” as well.  The rest of the movie cuts in and out of their various mischievous adventures, most of which revolve around food, specifically abundance and waste of food.  This movie is filled with unexpected cuts and filming techniques – it cuts in and out of color, black and white, and blurry out of focus shots.  The girls begin with traditional antics – dates and dinners – all of which end in impossible, preposterous nonsense.

This movie demands the viewer’s attention on a few levels.  As the narrative is told not just in the dialogue of the story but through the use of various different special and visual effects, as well as the interpreting both the subtitles and the unspoken narrative, a commentary on politics, feminism, and friendship.

The ending of the movie is hugely satisfying, as the Maries try to “fix” what they’ve wrecked with a fabulous conclusion.

#14 Nanook of the North (1922)

Robert J. Flaherty, the “father of the documentary,” created the first true documentary with his Nanook of the North – a film that explores the lives of the Inuit of Northeastern Canada, most specifically one “Eskimo” named Nanook who tragically died two years after filming but had become a worldwide sensation. What is most beautiful about this film is the story of its genesis – that there was a real version of 30,000 feet of film that tragically burnt up with the accidental flick of a cigarette ash, and Flaherty felt so passionate about his subjects that he headed back into the wilderness to reshoot the entire documentary. That is not without controversy, however, since the new version is made up of performers, situations, and an overall execution that seems to be entirely (or at least mostly) scripted and performed rather than shot naturally.

A short digression. We actually watched the Documentary Now season 1 episode 2 about “Kunuk” and really enjoyed it. We only knew a small piece of the connection to this film – I mean, anyone with any small exposure to a significant education is at least aware of it – and actually watching the film was a really eye-opening experience having watched the satire of it first. Watch Documentary Now. Fred Armisen and Bill Hader are geniuses.

So what we have left is a film that generally covers a great deal of material that may not be entirely real – but as Schneider’s book observes, “if Nanook’s beaming face as he warms his son’s hands is part of an act, then he was simply one of the great screen performers in history.” It is less about what is obviously not real, but what is so very real that makes this film spectacular.

We watched Nanook of the North on Criterion (#33), and it was a surprising early Criterion release with few special features and even a different logo. It was interesting to see how far they’ve come! The short Harvard interview with Flaherty’s wife parroted a great deal about what was already written about the film, but it was a nice addition to the DVD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanook_of_the_North

 

Garrett

I enjoyed this film. It is somewhat strange to look at a historical document with such a bizarre history and examine both of its fiction and nonfiction contributions to early filmmaking. Still, this piece showcases big cultural observations about a family in the throes of a violent environment. They still struggle, they still push for survival, they still work hard to make the most of their lives that are all they know. While some of what is in the film seems like strange directed-blackface-parody (for whatever reason, the scene with the record player really rubbed me the wrong way in terms of its infantile and bizarre direction in what I can only hope was fiction when Nanook bit the record…maybe I’m wrong), the majority of it showcases some beautiful little poignant moments.

What I am most impressed with is the story about how the film came to be and Flaherty’s dedication to making something genuine and never before seen in the world. While nonfiction adventure writing had been the norm since the beginning of time, this new format truly forced Flaherty to be on scene with all of his equipment and to edit together thousands of feet of footage – an entire first draft of which was tragically destroyed. His dedication to his subject and telling the story he set out to tell as a life mission is as inspiring as it gets, especially considering the world that he was portraying was literally a harsh, desolate wasteland.

A film as beautiful as it is legendary, Nanook of the North sets the bar high for every documentary that followed.

Jennifer

While the history behind this movie is somewhat strange, this was a fascinating film. It follows an Inuit family  living in Canada through their daily lives. While some of the scenes are clearly staged or set up, the men and women featured in the film are taking us through their own personal realities – hunting to ward off starvation, creating shelter, teaching and carrying on traditions with their children. It was fascinating to watch how  Nanook and his companions hunt for fish and giant walrus, and how resourceful they had to be to keep from literally freezing and starving to death.

The real star of the movie may have to be the Malamute dogs and puppies who work with the family. The feature prominently as they work to pull the family’s sled of supplies and as they guard the igloo. They also apparently love to snuggle up with the Nanook’s infant. Nanook even  builds a baby puppy igloo –  inside their big igloo. Youtube has nothing on this early adorable animal cuteness. I also really enjoyed watching how Nanook and his family built an enormous igloo on the spot while they were out on a hunting expedition ( I have always wanted to build a real igloo). Finally, as in several of the films on our review list, the setting plays a huge role in this movie. It portrays the Hudson Bay area as  savage,  fierce and almost completely unspoiled.

#43 La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928)

Considered in many circles to not only be the greatest Joan of Arc film ever made but one of the greatest films ever made, Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc “reinvents the world from the ground up” in a silent masterpiece of visual emotional gravity (Schneider). Using highly abridged and reworked transcripts from the actual inquisitions and trial of Joan, the tight camera angles, terrifying beauty of the performer’s faces, and clear references to the brutality and irrationality of World War I, this film is a true masterpiece that will continue to spellbind audiences with its melancholy humanness.

We watched this film on Criterion, #62, although you can watch the film in its entirety legally online in many places and would just need to add your own score. The haunting score on Criterion, Richard Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” is a spectacular addition if you have the chance to see it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Passion_of_Joan_of_Arc

Garrett

This was an early film that I heard murmurings about in the past, but really had no jumping excitement to run out and grab. The story of Joan has always been something that has captivated me, however, and this year alone I have probably consumed at least two books on the subject including Mark Twain’s novel that he considered to be his best work. Various images from the prints and box seemed familiar to me, but besides that there wasn’t much context. I saw the Criterion at the library, and knowing it was on our list I grabbed it. I am so happy I did, and Criterion’s gorgeous print and brilliant pairing with Richard Einhorn’s score immerses one in a beautiful and destructive alternate reality for eighty-two minutes.

Striking sets, completely ahead-of-its-time camerawork, and Renée Falconetti’s morally and emotionally shattering performance all work in concert to evoke maximum emotional carnage. Essentially, the film is a series of impeccably framed, gorgeous, high-contrast faces performing an interrogation of Joan. As the film progresses, the entire range of human emotion is presented by these truly captivating countenances. What the film is visually is where the perceptive value of the digital restoration (and mastery of the camera) really makes every pore, every puddle of tears, every shock, and every blissful gaze pop off the screen and made me feel wholly sympathetic and empathetic to all of the characters in the piece – most notably Falconetti’s. While many elements of the execution of the film lend themselves to absolute worship in performance, it is Falconetti’s Joan that is truly one of the greatest performances ever recorded, all the more surprising considering this was only one of two roles she ever played on film having been primarily a theatrical actress. As a theatrical actor myself, I am incredibly impressed. Many performances try to be what this is, and I couldn’t help thinking of Hathaway’s I Dreamed A Dream in Les Miserables (which I didn’t particularly care for) attempting an uncanny impression of Falconetti’s Joan… But after seeing this, and after seeing many actresses attempt rapturous despair, it is clear that I haven’t seen anything like this. There’s simply nothing close.

What I found to be the most amazing about this entire piece isn’t even the script, direction, and execution, but the story behind why we’re even able to watch it at all. For a piece like this to be a commercial flop that is lauded by critics in the early days of cinema is not a story that is unique to Passion, however, to be solely printed on nitrate stock and virtually disappear from the face of the earth for sixty years and then miraculously re-emerge from a janitor’s closet in an insane asylum before its demolition in 1981 makes this reel the stuff of legend. Everything stood in the way of this piece’s genesis, from political and cultural upheaval from the French insisting that Dreyer couldn’t do the story any justice to the seven million franc price tag of the authentic set. Still, Dreyer wrote and directed an amazing piece that is sincerely a masterpiece of filmmaking. It is even more interesting that there are a variety of places on the Internet where one can legally watch the film for free (save for the lack of soundtrack and subtitles) and almost enjoy the piece as a gift to the world.

Simply put, one of the greatest films and performances I have ever seen, and I am grateful it still exists to be able to experience it.

Jennifer

I can’t say I was very eager to watch this movie.  After viewing, I can say this movie is truly a  must-see film.  The performances (it is a silent, black and white film) are expressive and hard to describe.  The actress that plays Joan can say more with her eyes than many great performers have been able to express with all the words.  The set and costumes are minimal and do not distract from the actors.  In place of words, the narrative of the story is moved along with extreme close-up shots of the actors’ performances, and jerky quick transitions.

One analysis I read of the movie pointed out that the director purposefully did not create continuity with the shots of the film –  when a scene cuts back and forth between two characters speaking the background, setting and props do not match up scene to scene.  This was to provide the audience with a sense of disorientation similar to how his character Joan was feeling in the movie.  The director also  shot and re-shot scenes multiple times – sometimes spending hours on just one scene.  He had the actors perform in uncomfortable situations (kneeling on rubble for hours) in order to obtain perfect facial expressions.  When the original film was thought completely destroyed by fire, the director was able to almost completely re-create the film a second time using the multiple additional takes every scene.

A must see – I have never seen anything like it!