“If people can’t see the difference between real expression and forced expression it’s only a sign that performance has been beaten over our heads for so long that it’s replacing true human nature. We often feel the need to appear like actors in a film. Phoneys dammit! I see it endlessly. Suspension of disbelief is a bad habit. Remember reality.”
This goes back to one of my biggest arguments, which is a big argument because people disagree with it a lot: movies are neither truth, nor lies, they are representation. If you want to “remember reality”, you’re only watching light flickering on a screen, and half the time in the theatre you’re sitting in complete darkness. “Suspension of disbelief” doesn’t require ignorance towards film faults or narrative holes, like it’s usually used for, it is the recognition that we’re entering a different space or experience than the lives we spend, driving to the movie theatre instead of when we’re inside it.
So you disagree with Falconetti’s performance, which hurt the film for you because a large part of how it works rests on it. Just off hand, historically this movie has been very controversial because audiences thought Falconetti was actually tortured to induce such a performance from her. They were wrong, but that goes to show how effective it’s operated on many people throughout time.
Though I’m kind of wondering what a “real virginal face” is supposed to look like.
DiB said, Anyway, I’ve always been struck by the solely close-up takes, and what’s interesting about that is that Dreyer essentially makes a movie completely out of exclamation marks.
I like that line—although I’m not sure I entirely agree with you, DiB. The “exclamation marks” applies to Falconetti’s performance, but other actors use other “punctuation marks” in the film.
As to your other question about making a film today with a lot of close-ups, I think it could possibly work—if you find an actor(s) with really interesting faces and/or great acting ability. Patrice Leconte’s Man on a Train sort of worked for me because the faces of the two leads were so wonderful (but the film didn’t use close-ups to the same degree as Passion). The other thing is that Falconetti is truly incandescent, her soul burning from her face—and this is a big reason the excessive use of close-ups work, imo. On the other hand, there’s a lot of close-ups with the other actors as well. Dreyer (and the cinematographer) just had a way with using close-ups I think.
“, which is a big argument because people disagree with it a lot: movies are neither truth, nor lies, they are representation”
But some representations can be more truthful, or false, than others, and that’s where this sidestep argument falls apart for me.
No, that’s an okay point, Joks. Matthew Seed rejects the movie on the basis of its real ism which is the problem I see here. He’s not going to get reality from any movie, no matter how he tries, but there are still truths in Passion of Joan of Arc that shouldn’t, in my opinion, be rejected outright because one didn’t like a performance. However, for what it’s worth, if you don’t like Falconetti’s performance then a major part of the power of this film, as described, does get lost. There’s no convincing someone unconvinced there, but if he’s looking for reality he’s not going to find it in cinema. He’s only going to find representation of reality, which requires performance, and performance is not reality. That is my point.
Falconetti isn’t believable. That’s all. I know I’m watching a film, but I can’t help seeing effort. People don’t push out tears or emotion. They’re held back. Look at when Hossein Sabzian cries in Kiarostami’s Close-up. Falconetti doesn’t resemble a real person. I don’t expect reality, but to forget that Falconetti is performing is to pretend or be blind. I couldn’t be moved if I was pretending, and if I was almost moved when I saw it, it’s only because I couldn’t see clearly. I used to enjoy performances until I began looking at them. I haven’t seen his other films btw.
I don’t think it’s a bad film, though I don’t remember much of it. I just think the face is too false to be moved by. A virginal face is obviously just a face without pretence. Not Falconetti’s. An unadulterated face. There’s an enormous difference between true unplanned expression and performance. This film would die without performance, and of course, for me…
I don’t think a film should be 90% acting. Especially when I don’t buy it.
Oh, and as for film being a representation, I understand. But I doubt Dreyer or many others thought of performance as a representation. Many people don’t think about performance at all, they think it’s an end, not the means to an end. Of course it’s rarely the means to an end either, just support. Didn’t Dreyer want people to believe Falconetti? Not see it as a representation? Most filmmakers don’t question acting, they just do it, it’s rarely an aesthetic choice. I suspect Dreyer just did it, not because he believed in performance as a representation of real emotion but… just cuz that’s how it’s done. I don’t see much difference between Falconetti and any other typical actress that mugs at the camera. Fellini’s style is a representation that we’re obviously meant to recognise as such, but performance is almost always taken as is. We’re supposed to just take Falconetti as she is. I did, but don’t now. This isn’t truth by way of the false, the falseness of her performance gets us no closer to any truth.
“Falconetti isn’t believable. That’s all. I know I’m watching a film, but I can’t help seeing effort. People don’t push out tears or emotion. They’re held back.”
you thought her emotions were pushed out? what… the… fuck…?
YES! LOOK! I just looked at some on youtube. Unbearable effort! Those damn eyes stretched open! No human on the planet does that. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkWALDlvpdY Look at 2:37. ABSURRRRRRRRRRRRRD! When people start vomiting their pretentious praise of her I’m about ready to murder someone. I was the same; caught up in the bullshit praise before I ripped myself away from that machine. Her performance is a sledgehammer across the face. Any sensitivity to real human subtlety is smashed out of you when you see it. Everything is on show. RRRRAAAGGHHH!!! I’m still happy to hear further discussion.
am i to infer that you believe that someone who (in her belief) carried out god’s will, only to imprisoned, starved, abused and psychologically tortured by god’s representatives, might display less emotion? a bulging of the eyes is just TOO MUCH?
in your experience, how do people in those situations behave?
I actually thought her performance was one-note. She pretty much cried and looked distressed for the entire film. Not saying its a terrible performance but I’d lean to the side of “slightly overrated”. The way people talk, she has the power to shift the Earth on its axis or something.
If you didn’t feel this: ….nothing prepares you for the time the credits roll, the viewer feels emptied, literally drained. It is “that” devastating, as an emotional, spiritual, ecstatic, and aesthetic experience.
You won’t get this: The performance of this Joan of Arc, as portrayed by Falconetti, is the single greatest acting that has ever been imprinted, seared, burned, into celluloid.Falconetti, understandably, never made another film. It is a haunting, harrowing performance.
“am i to infer that you believe that someone who (in her belief) carried out god’s will, only to imprisoned, starved, abused and psychologically tortured by god’s representatives, might display less emotion? a bulging of the eyes is just TOO MUCH?”
The performance betrays the context in my opinion. Yes, TOO MUCH. Joan is moving, Falconetti… ain’t.
Hehe, I do actually recall the draining. But like I said it’s because I was able to put up with Falconetti. I saw it before I started to think about what cinema is. Now I laugh inwardly and TRY to enjoy it.
A Man Escaped drains me, but it’s obviously not the performance, it’s the circumstance. Bresson didn’t put acting between you and Fontaine and his situation. I’ve seen Bresson’s Joan but it had no subtitles and I don’t remember it well. I don’t want to compare the two.
A performance I don’t mind is Binoche in Code Unknown. Even a simple paroxysm of fear that requires false expression didn’t annoy. No one would say she was better than Falconetti. I’m insane
I understand and respect your view that Falconetti’s performance is not believable—although I emphatically disagree. However, imo, the believability of the acting is something very subjective. Making a convincing case for the believability of a performance is extremely difficult, if not impossible and futile. I think that’s something worth noting. Having said that, let me hazard a response to some of your remarks regarding Falconetti’s performance.
I agree that, generally speaking, real people tend to hold back their emotions rather than “push them out.” However, I think you would agree that Joan is not the typical person. She’s a kind of Holy Fool—one with an intense passion and unusual devotion to God—the kind of person that would appear clinically insane to many people (and maybe she was). Falconetti’s wild eyed expression shows either an intense religious passio or a deranged mind (or both). Moreover, in the film, she’s on trial for her life and her beliefs, so she’s feeling an intense pressure. Given these two factors, her very overt display emotions may not be so unusual—or at the very least we can agree that she’s an extraordinary person and in an extraordinary situation.
There’s something else to consider. Her performance almost entirely takes place on her face. The camera seems to spend most of its time on her face. We don’t see her move through space. Also, reading of the lines plays no part in her performance. In some ways, Dreyer and Falconetti’s creation of Joan is more similar to photography than cinema. The viewer experiences Joan through snap-shots more than a theatrical or cinematic performance (or at least that’s the feeling I get).
Ultimately, however, if you’re not convinced of the emotions and spirit behind Falconetti’s eyes and face, then really there’s nothing I can say to change that. All I know is that I was convinced, and I consider that one of the more remarkable achievements by an actor and filmmaker that I’ve ever seen.
I can understand the criticism that Falconetti shows her acting, that her effort is so conspicuous that it weakens the believability of her performance.
I don’t agree with this “power of the human face” baloney. The human face in front of the camera and under control is not the human face. It’s false. Completely different from a real virginal face. I felt like I was ‘putting up’ with Falconetti. Trying to be moved. Of course the film itself has been eclipsed by it’s reputation and the clichés and boring generalities that everyone vomits up all the time. For this reason I felt like I was looking the other way, suspending disbelief. Not good. If people can’t see the difference between real expression and forced expression it’s only a sign that performance has been beaten over our heads for so long that it’s replacing true human nature. We often feel the need to appear like actors in a film. Phoneys dammit! I see it endlessly. Suspension of disbelief is a bad habit. Remember reality. Not a bad film of course. Not seen many silent films but Man With A Movie Camera is a favorite. Didn’t really like Greed because it’s just the novel on film. No interpretation. Buh.
The Bresson fanboys always bring up this argument and poop on Dreyer’s film as their infallible hero once did.
What cracks me up is that the Bresson fanboys don’t seem to want to recognize that Bresson’s “models” also wear “forced expressions” as well. Both the Bressonian underacting and Falconetti’s more expressionist approach are stylized. Do human beings all walk around staring at the ground looking completely listless while speaking in monotones? It’s fine if you accept that stylized method of acting, but to say that a more spirited approach to acting is inherently inferior is just silliness.
….people can’t see the difference between real expression and forced expression…
‘’Where one should see only what is beautiful, our public looks only for what is true.’’
Charles Baudelaire “Théophile Gautier,” (1859).
See that date ☝ – only appearances have changed.
As for Bresson, I don’t really agree with his approach but I obviously prefer it. The forced non-expressions are attempts at withholding everything so only real expressions will ‘accidentally’ escape. Charles in The Devil Probably, while withholding himself, can’t help smirking when he tells the psychiatrist he was spanked as a boy. Like real life. Unintentional. Bresson wants their real expressions to break his rule. It can’t always work, that’s the problem.
I understand it’s acting. Too much? Damn, I just realised this is another “Overrated” topic. The main thing is the power of the human face. I don’t see Joan in Falconetti. I just don’t see the best performance of all time.
The Baudelaire quote. The film should be beautiful. Falconetti is the film, and Falconetti is too much. Is a woman buried under makeup beautiful because or in spite of the makeup?
It’s a question of measure. I feel it’s too much. I’m never struck by big performances. De Niro should’ve beat Finch in 1976 oscars. Easier to be nuts.
I still haven’t seen this film, but I’d love to. Is it in the Dreyer box set?
“She’s a kind of Holy Fool—one with an intense passion and unusual devotion to God—the kind of person that would appear clinically insane to many people (and maybe she was).”
Would anybody be too angry with me if I brought up Besson’s The Messenger at this point?
One thing I like about that movie is the scenery-chewing acting. It actually works because you could imagine these people all locked up in an asylum together, convinced they’re in the Hundred Years War. Whereas The Messenger is a whole heck of a lot more expressionistic (or even just gothic) than Dreyer’s viewpoint, it is interesting that both share a common cause in locking you inside with Joan to see if you’re comfortable with her.
^^it’s blasphemy dude. that film was complete and utter garbage!!! at least until Hoffman showed up anyway. ;-)
Matthew said, The forced non-expressions are attempts at withholding everything so only real expressions will ‘accidentally’ escape.
Really? Is that his approach? I thought he wanted the audience to project their own emotions/interpretations on the actors or even allow the activity to convey emotions or ideas. If what you’re saying is correct, I would say the approach almost never worked for me; it just doesn’t seem like a good approach to getting real expressions/reactions (if that’s what he really wanted).
Yeah, he’s said that he wanted neutrality so that the context would allow the spectator to feel something in the characters without direct expression. But the way he did it, exhausting his models mentally and sometimes physically, seems to suggest a removal of all pretence. When you’re exhausted you don’t put on any masks. Also, it’s like silence: The only reason you want it is so you can break it. The first sound that breaks it can be heard clearly. The value of it is clear, like an expression that breaks through. Instead of a cacophony where all is muddled. His approach is many things. A neutralisation of all parts so that the only value is in the juxtapositons, the film itself. But one can’t deny that (some of) his models’ faces DID have value. Francois Letterier had something in his face. Nadine Nortier is an example of no expression whatsoever, on purpose (barring smiles) or unintentional. But he did say she really cried once. Bresson’s approach was complex. Why did he keep Charles’ smile?
It sounds like I don’t like acting at all, but I can enjoy a film that is mostly performance. I liked A Cock And Bull Story, and there would’ve been no chance of that if I had stuck my nose up at it. I also want to see Tough Guys Don’t Dance. I can enjoy it, but I couldn’t consider a performance that I can’t forget is a performance “the best. Period.” If I forget, or can appreciate the obvious over-the-top style I’m fine, but it seems that everyone considers Falconetti believable. I lose. I realise that this really was just another ‘overrated’ topic. And I didn’t even start it, hehe. I’m just afraid of “the best” anything. That’s always gonna invite contrariness.
The bottom line is that Bresson’s actors don’t create realistic or believable characters—which is essentially your criticism against Falconetti, right? He may have mutliple objectives for his approach, but he utterly fails if he’s going for realism. (Personally, I don’t think that’s what he’s going for.)
I believe. I can’t deny the instances of a model’s true nature escaping them. The monotone is an unnatural EFFORT (can’t deny that) to avoid… unnatural effort. But, zero is easier for me to believe than turning it up to 11. It’s less false, but you’re right, it’s not real. An unnatural method is necessary for natural results. It’s an example of Bresson working with all the freedom he can under constricting rules. A film can’t be 100% real, but only progress can be made. The impossible goal is perfection. Actors must say things that were planned in an unreal circumstance. That’s his only constriction. Must pull truth out of a false circumstance.
See 2:20. Letterier is not Fontaine, did not feel the real horror of the prison, and did not feel the true joy Devigny must have felt but something came out of him. He broke the rule. Maybe even on purpose, but that uncertainty is good. Truth by way of the false.
Oh yeah, and this realism. It’s like Godard. He knows that an audience knows that his films are films, and he purposely shows us that it’s a film. Bresson does the same thing in the opposite direction. He doesn’t blow up the things an audience can’t believe, he removes them. He flattens the bumps. All bumps are about what the audience knows to be false. Acting is obviously a big one, and he doesn’t want it because he wants an inability to deny most of what you are seeing. The reality behind the camera, actors saying their words, is the same in front. No pretending. They don’t pretend they believe themselves. They are what they are. I think the forced non-effort is unnecessary, but it’s obviously essential for certain bits of undeniable truth. I wouldn’t do it like that, though I love those moments. More like Godard. “Don’t do anything, just say your lines”.
Fuzzbucket, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC not in the Dreyer boxset. That set has DAY OF WRATH, ORDET, and GERTRUDE.