"The Passion of Joan of Arc" is the exception that proves the rule--the rule that movies are not art. In fact, it is a bit unfair, without this foreword, to call "Joan" a "movie," for "movie" connotes squawking, sexy, sentimentality, while "Joan of Arc" is history and literature.
The picture, which deals with the trial of Joan for witchery is an artist's, not a historian's, attempt to strip the legend-wrapped saint and discover the simple peasant girl that was the real Joan. She lives in the pages of Mark Twain and of Shaw, but she moves and breathes more convincingly still in the superbly restrained portrayal of Mile, Falconetti.
The direction is an example of the importance of the people on the other side of the camera. The director has understood the human interest of the human face and its value as an intellectual object. He has made his picture a gallery of churchmen and a saint. It is a succession of strong eye-and-thought-compelling features with intermittently the reaction to them of Joan's remarkable visage. Faces at all angles and distances, but usually as close-ups, character sketches of celluloid. Through the characterizations, medieval in their sincere brutality, rather than in setting a la Hollywood, is the picture placed and dated.
Wagner is played at intervals, a fitting accompaniment to the forceful action. The death of Joan at the stake with the thrilling "Fire Music" playing softly is a masterpiece of drama. So is the whole "movie".