Tag Archives: artistic

The Passion of Joan of Arc – Review

11 Sep

So, for this review, we are going waywaywayway back to 1928. At this point, film making is still relatively new. Edison’s actuality films have been around for a while, and we are well into the golden age of silent cinema. Film makers like F.W. Murnau have been taking the medium and turning it into a very expressive work of art that can be used for more than just simple entertainment purposes. One of the most important film makers, whose goal seemed to be achieving just this, was Carl Theodor Dreyer. I have already reviewed on of Dreyer’s movies, Vampyr, and can easily call it my personal favorite. In many people’s eyes, however, The Passion of Joan of Arc is considered his masterpiece.

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Joan of Arc (Maria Falconetti) stands trial for declaring that she has been sent by God to remove the English from France. The judges try to intimidate her with condemning words, false letters from King Charles VII, and eventually the threat of torture. Her fear of burning at the stake forces her to sign the confession, stating that she was lying the entire time. Later, in her prison, she is rethinking everything that she has done and recants her confession. This leads to an intense scene of her execution by fire and the riot amongst the public that this causes.

When executed properly, silent films can be even more powerful than modern day dramas that implement a lot of dialogue to convey the emotional intensity of a scene. Dreyer didn’t have this luxury and was forced to use other means to show just how straining physically, mentally, and spiritually this whole trial was for Joan. As a starting point, Dreyer had actual transcripts of the trial that had been meticulously recorded. This provided a lot of information that makes the film as good as it is. One outstanding instance of historical accuracy that can now be used as one of the greatest lines of dialogue in the film goes as follows: “Are you in a state of grace,” asks one of Joan’s judges. She replies with, “If I am, may God keep me there; if I am not, may He grant it to me.”

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Dreyer is really good with set design and moving the camera around in these sets. At the time, camera movement was not as fancy as it is today, but somehow Dreyer managed to completely step out of the box and create highly artistic and fluid motion. The sets in The Passion of Joan of Arc are almost completely bare and white. There are occasional shadows that evoke religious imagery, which is nice, but the set design is an excellent example of minimalism. The exterior scenes were also shot in a man made town square that had many of different mechanisms that had to be adjusted so that Dreyer could move the camera about and got the shots that he wanted. One exterior shot that really caught my attention was a extremely low angle shot looking straight up with people sprinting by the camera. It seemed like an incredibly daring shot, but looks fantastic nonetheless. Another great example of camera work is when the camera moves close to Joan and her judges in moments of intensity. That brings us to the close ups.

It is said that the producers of this movie were none to happy with Dreyer and the finished product. They spent a lot of money in making sure that the sets were large and starkly beautiful. Well, viewers don’t get too much time to admire the sets with all of the close ups that Dreyer uses. The amount of close ups was pretty much unheard of at this point. Not only that, but none of the actors were wearing make up.  That leaves a lot of close ups on actors that are completely natural, and lets face it, some of her judges are pretty freaky looking without make up. Dreyer firmly believed that the eyes were the window to the soul, which makes his decision to cast Maria Falconetti as Joan even more perfect. The close ups on Falconetti are mesmerizing, with her eyes seeming to look through the screen and straight into the viewer’s heart. This is one of the best performances ever put to film, and words really can’t do it justice.

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The Passion of Joan of Arc is an essential piece of film history that acts as a major foundation for making film into a legitimate means of artistic expression. For film standards in 1928, this is movie is extremely inventive and progressive. Moving away from what was considered to be a traditional film of the time, Dreyer creates a meticulous spiritual journey that we must travel with Joan. It’s beautiful, haunting, and will completely overwhelm you by the time that the final image burns into your mind.

Salò – Review

22 Dec

Ohhhh boy. Where do I begin? Pier Paolo Pasolini was a controversial writer/director who lived a controversial life and died under mysterious circumstances. His last piece was a film called Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Sounds like a bizarre movie. Well, being a film lover who loves to push the limits of what he can tolerate, I knew I had to check out this movie and see what all the hullabaloo was about, and I can easily say that it was one of the most uncomfortable two hours of my life.

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In 1944 Fascist Italy, a group of men and their prostitute collaborators kidnap a group of teenagers and young adults. Amongst this large group, 9 men and 9 women are chosen to take a trip to a secluded mansion in the Italian countryside near Salò. At this mansion the group of men subject the two younger groups to increasingly sadistic sexual tortures and humiliations for 120 days.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the story. The character development is pretty nonexistent, besides learning a thing or two we didn’t already know about a particular person. Other than that, no one really changes throughout the course of the movie. This movie isn’t really about a character or characters getting from one point to another, be it physically or interpersonally. Salò is about grabbing the viewer by the throat and tossing them into a terrible situation where an evil, animalistic, and lawless side of human nature is exploited. Anything can and will go in the mansion.

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This may sound odd, but while I was watching this movie, I felt like I lost all sense of time and was vicariously trapped in the mansion. The transitions between scenes with seem like they stretch on for an eternity, and I knew that the next scene was only going to be worse than the one I was already trapped in. That being said, this is a very disturbing film, but not like modern movies like A Serbian Film or Antichrist. No, this movie is almost subtle. There are a few scenes of outright and graphic disgust, but a lot of what is disturbing is what can’t be seen or just the overall atmosphere that a scene radiates. The entire movie I felt uneasy and knew that nothing good could come from what I was seeing. This movie is also a lot more real feeling than the two I just mentioned. It’s almost like a voyeuristic style of film making where I could watch, but unfortunately not intervene.

Artistically, Salò is a masterpiece. Pasolini’s style gives the terrible actions of this movie an ironic kind of beauty. In one particular scene, a dinner goes from being strange to stranger and is really the first in your face bizarre occurrence in the movie. I noticed that the blocking of the entire scene was precise and flawless with just enough being shown, but a lot being left to the imagination. The whole layout and design of the mansion is beautiful and unsettling, feeling almost like a maze with its multiple doors, rooms, and hallways. Finally, Pasolini relied heavily, as he always did, on natural lighting. This gives the movie a whole new feeling of realism, leaving all the dramatizing to the actors and the script.

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Here comes the hard part, where I have to plainly say if I liked the movie or not. The answer is: I’m not sure, and I don’t think I ever will be. Never have I felt so completely unsafe, exposed, and insecure watching a movie. Salò is quietly beautiful and artistically stunning, which has made this film critically acclaimed throughout the years. This is definitely not a movie for everyone, and I’m not going to say that you should watch it. I will say, however, that it is an interesting and horrifying experience that should only be watched if you’re absolutely sure you can handle the material.