The Aesthetics Of Passion And Betrayal The Aesthetics of Passion and Betrayal In The Passion of Joan of Arc, Carl Theodor Dreyer uses the visuality of spatial relationships in each shot with the human face and its ability to convey unspoken emotion in his portrayal of the demise of Joan of Arc. Unlike most film, the message is almost entirely told by just the eyes and expressions of the actors. There is very little reliance upon props and background.
The camera angles and close-up shooting accentuate emotions and reactions. The editing style is almost methodic in keeping the emotional pace; it is much like an argument, alternating images of Joan’s tenacity, and the judges’ contempt.The artistic elements of the film are found in the subtle elements of the setting in contrast with the story that is realized by looking into Joan’s eyes as she witnesses her lifelong beliefs condemned and destroyed by her martyrdom. The stylistics of Dreyer’s vision in The Passion of Joan of Arc are unique in that they cannot be characterized by one particular conventional style or definition. Joan’s beliefs and character are often described as being transcendent.
Transcendental style came about in the artistic world as a way to portray that which is considered “Holy” on a more elevated level. In many cases, especially in film, transcendental style can leave a film slow in pace, and create a lack of empathy for the characters and their plight. Dreyer therefore must not be concentrating on the transcendental style alone since the film is methodic in pace and the audience easily feels the grief Joan is experiencing.
There are at least 2 other major stylistic influences at work in The Passion of Joan of Arc. According to Paul Schrader, “Each of Dreyer’s individual film “styles” is, to be more accurate, a synthesis between three basic and opposing styles at work in his films. In order to define Dreyer’s aesthetic, one must confront to opposing artistic schools: the Kammerspiel and Expressionism.” The Kammerspiel or chamber-play style concentrates on just the basics, placing reality front and center. This is most evident in the concentration Dreyer places in the close ups of the faces.
The expressionist style is less evident since the power of reality is what is most important.The expressionist elements are found mostly in the sets. German Expressionist master Hermann Warm who designed the wildly distorted sets of The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari designed the sets for The Passion of Joan of Arc. He deliberately created sets without sharp angles to make the backgrounds focus the emotion created by the actors instead of changing or contradicting it. The overall stylization of the film’s world can be taken to indicate the state of Joan’s consciousness with the flat spaces and shifting angles and framing.The methodology used in shooting the film also holds metaphorical significance. There is a great feeling of uncertainty created by the lack of accurate depth. With all the shots so close up and backgrounds devoid of angles, color, and reference points, everything on the screen is placed in the same plane visually.
The lighting is also deceptive since there are few definitive shadows cast to give definition to depth. The Passion of Joan of Arc is not without geometric motifs however. It is noticeably evident that even though there are few well defined lines in the sets, when lines do appear, they appear as a pair of lines intersecting in sharp angles.This is suggestive of the sharp difference in Joan’s viewpoint with that of her judges.
The eerily evil presence of the judges is due in part to the camera angles. The action of a scene is rarely centered and the action position jumps around from scene to scene. Mocking grins from the upper left corner and judges leaving Joan’s cell in the bottom left corner. Also, the low camera angles make the judges appear larger and more looming. They appear sheared off at the chest, making them seem to float and glide instead of walk. Carl Theodor Dreyer’s editing style is also part of the artistic method that makes the emotional value of The Passion of Joan of Arc so powerful.
The lack of continuity directly parallels the inner conflict and emotion Joan is feeling as the judges question and condemn her for going against the “Holy Mother Church.” Of the film’s over fifteen hundred cuts, less than thirty carry a figure or object over from one shot to another; and fewer than fifteen cuts constitute genuine matches on action. Since objects and characters cannot be used to link shots, there is only the neutral white void of the background that remains continuous. It is possible to consider the white background as a metaphor for God surrounding and watching the proceedings. The actors in The Passion of Joan of Arc were unique in that they remained in the most natural physical state without makeup or masks.
Expressionist film of the late 1920’s usually included actors that wore thick makeup or masks to obscure the individual identity of the character.Since obscurity was the furthest thing from his mind, Dreyer used a more “documentary” approach by using the actors’ own faces. To Dreyer, each face contained a wealth of detail: craggy ridges, puffy cheeks, bulbous eyebrows, sclerotic warts, and globes of sweat. It was the combination of the natural impurities and extreme close ups that produced so much emotion from single faces. The emotions in the faces of Joan and the Judges are also important in showing the active aggression and the passive fear in the trial. As the judges angrily ask question after question, demanding answers from Joan, the tension and fear they create reflects in Joan’s eyes.The reflection makes the reaction and fear genuine, and genuine fear encompasses even the audience. As each sc …