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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Taiwanese DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Audio essay by Casper Tybjerg, a Dreyer scholar from the University of Copenhagen
  • An extensive production design archive
  • A history of Passion
  • Alternate presentation of the film at 20 frames per second with original Danish intertitles
  • Three scores: Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, a choral and orchestral work performed by vocal group Anonymous 4, soloist Susan Narucki, and the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic and Choir; another by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory and Portishead’s Adrian Utley; and the third composed and performed by pianist Mie Yanashita
  • New interview with Robert Einhorn
  • New conversation between Will Gregory and Adrian Utley
  • New video essay by Casper Tybjerg exploring the debate over the film’s frame rate
  • Interview from 1995 with actor Renée Falconetti’s daughter and biographer, Hélène Falconetti
  • An essay by critic Mark Le Fanu, a 1929 director’s statement by Carl Th. Dreyer, and the full libretto for

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Carl Th. Dreyer
1928 | 82 Minutes | Licensor: Gaumont

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #62
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 20, 2018
Review Date: March 20, 2018

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SYNOPSIS

Spiritual rapture and institutional hypocrisy come to stark, vivid life in one of the most transcendent masterpieces of the silent era. Chronicling the trial of Joan of Arc in the days leading up to her execution, Danish master Carl Theodor Dreyer depicts her torment with startling immediacy, employing an array of techniques—including expressionistic lighting, interconnected sets, and painfully intimate close-ups—to immerse viewers in her subjective experience. Anchoring Dreyer’s audacious formal experimentation is a legendary performance by Renée Falconetti, whose haunted face channels both the agony and the ecstasy of martyrdom.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection revisits Carl Th. Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc, presenting it on Blu-ray in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this dual-layer disc. Criterion also presents two options for viewing the film: you can choose between either 24fps (which is basically what you got on their original DVD) or 20fps. The 24fps version is encoded at 1080p/24hz while the 20fps version is 1080p/60hz. Both versions are using a new 2K restoration performed by Gaumont and scanned from a duplicate negative made from an original positive. The versions are pretty much the same outside of the differing frame rates but they do offer different intertitles: the 24fps version presents French intertitles and the other presents the original Danish intertitles provided by the Danish Film Institute. Both versions of course come with optional English subtitles.

Since both versions have been sourced from the same restoration they look pretty much the same. Front and center and the most obvious improvement over Criterion’s original DVD is the restoration work that has gone into this: it’s about as spotless as one could ever expect for a film from this era. Where the DVD still had a large number of scratches and marks most of that is gone here, with only a few minor blemishes remaining, along with what appear to be some missing frames. The image is also far smoother and less jumpy in comparison to the DVD.

The image is also much more film-like in look, with superb grain rendering and a very obvious improvement in detail, all of those close-ups looking far more lifelike and the freckles on Falconetti’s looking far more distinct. Contrast is beautifully balanced between the whites and blacks, blacks looking quite rich without crushing detail, and the whites looking bright without blooming. Grays in between transition smoothly and cleanly.

Since 20fps doesn’t fit cleanly into a 24hz signal Criterion presents this version in 60hz, though it is progressive. I didn’t notice any issues while watching the film on my television and I also didn’t spot any anomalies like combing when scanning through screen grabs. I’m assuming they were able to cleanly distribute 20fps across the 60hz signal, though if there were any artifacts I’ll be the first to admit I simply just missed them. Whether there are any or not, though, the image is clean when watched on television.

In the end both version ultimately look fantastic, the amount of work having gone in this clearly showing. A significant improvement over Criterion’s already impressive DVD edition.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Each version gets their own set of audio options. Both come with “silent” tracks (and yes, that’s exactly what they are) that are delivered in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono (ultimately doesn’t matter but thought I would point that out). The 24fps version comes with two additional options: Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light score, presented in DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround, and then a newer track by Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, presented in lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround. The 20fps version only gets one alternative option, Mie Yanashita’s 2005 score, presented in lossless PCM 2.0 stereo surround.

I can’t comment specifically on the scores themselves as I’m ultimately just fine with all of them (yeah, even Voices of Light) but they’re all crisp and very dynamic. While the two 2.0 tracks offer a nice full environment that does immerse the viewer the Voices of Light track makes great use of the 5.1 environment, nicely spreading the instruments between the speakers while providing superb range and depth. It’s the more aggressive track, with far more activity and movement, which may be a bit much for the film admittedly, but it’s presented well.

The silent track also sounds great!! Nice and silent! There’s none more silent!

9/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion—in one way or another—has carried everything relevant over from their already impressive DVD edition, while adding new content on top of it. The big add is the inclusion of the 20fps version, which appears to make use of the same restoration as the 24fps version but features the Danish intertitles instead. Film scholar Casper Tybjerg also provides a 12-minute video essay about the frame rates explaining the arguments behind which frame rate is the correct one and aims to aid novices why such an argument exists, even getting into the technical details of camera equipment at the time. Though Tybjerg sides with the 20fps crowd (and most of the evidence he presents, right down to music cues, suggests this) he still brings up defenses for the 24fps version.

Tybjerg’s audio commentary from 1999 is here again. It’s about as academic a track as you could ask for, Tyjberg talking about the film’s look, its editing, angles, symbolism, and even compares it to other cinema of the time, providing a context as to what a revelation this film would have been. He also covers its production history, its reception, and the various edits. It’s probably most interesting, though, when he talks generally about Dreyer, how he worked with actors, and how he felt about this film. Dreyer was especially disappointed that the film was distributed as an art film where Dreyer intended for it to be released to a much wider audience and felt it was absolutely ridiculous to corner the film in such a way. To back his comments research Tybjerg also quotes from various writings and articles throughout the track. It can be a little dry and clinical but it gets the job done and will be of value to newcomers to the film or Dreyer’s work.

New to this edition are a pair of interviews around the scores for this film. The first, featuring Portishead’s Adrian Utley and Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory, is a 15-minute discussion between the two as they recall the project, adapting to the editing and rhythms, so on and so forth. It’s not an overly engaging discussion, something I was surprised by, but even more surprising is the new interview with the composer behind Voices of Light, Richard Einhorn, which I found much more engaging. Einhorn explains how he was looking to do a project about religion but when someone suggested that Joan of Arc should be the subject he felt that was a terrible idea. Oddly, though, he saw The Passion of Joan of Arc later and the film had such an impact on him he made that the focus for his new work. He of course covers what he was aiming to accomplish with the music, highlighting specific moments, but what I got a bit more out of was the research he actually put into this (he actually visited a number of sites that revolved around Joan of Arc’s life) as well as his observations on how this film still holds up all of these decades later.

An audio-only interview with Renée Falconetti’s daughter, Hélène Falconetti has been ported over, where she talks about her mother’s career before and after the film, and how she came about to be cast in the film. It runs about 9-minutes. Criterion also updates a text essay found on the old DVD about the film's version history. Now it’s presented as a visual essay with a detailed explanation as to why there are a variety of edits, how the version presented here (the most complete version known) came to be discovered, and also goes in great detail on the somewhat infamous cut put together by Lo Duca, attempting to make the film more “friendly” for modern audiences. There are clips provided from this version. This is an excellent essay but I do wish Criterion went the route that the UK’s Masters of Cinema series went with their release of the film and actually included the full Duca version, even if it didn’t look optimal.

Criterion does also carry over the production gallery from the DVD, though present it as a 4-minute, self-playing gallery. This includes a large number of pictures from the set, of the various models created for the sets, sketches, costume designs, and even pictures of the 14th century material that Dreyer referenced for his research, primarily the manuscripts for “The Travels of Sir John Mandeville.” This was a really worthwhile feature on the old DVD so I am quite happy Criterion saw fit to carry it over (they have a tendency to not always port their galleries over from DVD editions) but wish it was actually still a navigable gallery and not the video presentation it is here.

Criterion does include the film’s trailer, which interestingly does feature footage not in the film as it is now. This release also comes with a booklet, first with an excellent essay by Mark Le Fanu and followed by a short essay about the project written by Carl Th. Dreyer in 1929 (this was found in the insert included with the DVD edition). Criterion also includes the libretto for Voices of Light in this booklet. The old DVD included it as a separate booklet and I’m a little letdown it wasn’t presented in the same fashion here.

In all it’s a great set of features and it does replicate the old DVD for the most part. The old release featured more text notes than video features and those have basically been updated here: the text essay on the various versions has been replaced by the video essay here, and Einhorn’s new interview replaces a sub-section on the DVD that covered the score. On the DVD that sub-section did feature an older promotional piece on Voices of Light which featured Einhorn but the material found in that 5-minute video (and in a text essay that accompanied it) is covered in the interview here. In all Criterion provides a solid upgrade. If they just included the Duca version then it would have been perfect.

9/10

CLOSING

An all-around fantastic upgrade, well worth picking up even if you own the original DVD. The improvement in the presentation is stunning and the selection of features are superb. A really excellent edition for the film.


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