Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Maria-Renée Falconetti, 1892-1946

Maria-Renée Falconetti in 'La passion de Jeanne d'Arc'
July 21 marks the birth anniversary of several famous movie people, among them Maria-Renée Falconetti, who was born on this day in 1892. She's known for just one role, but what an acting job it is: the title role in The Passion of Joan of Arc.

Joan of Arc's story is well-known; the young girl who claimed to see a vision from God telling her to lead a French army against the English at the Battle of Orléans. However, she was tried for heresy and burned at the stake. This 1928 movie focuses on the trial and its aftermath, skipping over the military victory. Danish-born director Carl Theodor Dreyer uses extreme close-ups to show the characters' emotions, and it's a very effective technique. But credit goes even more to Falconetti herself, who puts on a naturalistic performance in which it seems as though she is not acting at all.

In one of the more interesting cases bolstering the argument for film preservation, the original cut The Passion of Joan of Arc was believed lost for decades when the negative burned up in a fire. However, a surviving cut was found quite miraculously, in the closet of a mental hospital in Oslo, Norway, in the 1980s. This restored print has been released to DVD, but because a foreign silent film is generally not of as great interest to the general public, it's again a much pricier DVD.

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