Carl Theodor Dreyer, France, 1928, bw-silent (8.0*)
Director Carl Theodor Dreyer of Denmark has given us a gem of a silent film by extracting and properly filming one of the great performances in cinema history by Renee Maria Falconetti as the teenage warrior Jeanne d'Arc, who led French soldiers of Orleans against the British invaders in the early 15th century. Jeanne claims she was spoken to by God, and told to kill British soldiers. For this she was tried by the Catholic Church, who tried to get her to recant her 'visions', and burned as a heretic at the age of nineteen. Later, as often happens, she was then sainted by the church as a martyr for her faith.
This film only covers her trial and death. Dreyer extracts every nuance and ounce of emotion that Falconetti can likely muster, and he gives us many gut-wrenching closeups of her anguish. In all honesty, I was worried about the actress herself after first seeing this, and later found out that she never acted again.
On rare occasions, someone transcends the medium of their art and creates a timeless work that will stand forever, and Falconetti has done that here. If you want the full story of Jeanne, or you like historical war films, you will likely want to watch the modern, violent, special effects driven film from French director Luc Besson, The Messenger, with Milla Jovovich as Joan. Fans of classic cinema will still prefer Dreyer's silent masterpiece, but both offer different views of this historical heroine.
Ranked No. 34 on our compendium of film polls, the #1 film from France (here is our list of the top ranked films from France), and is now No. 211 on the IMDB top 250, so it's a more popular film on the critics polls than the popular ones, yet it's still recognized by all groups of cinephiles.