Carl Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, Andrei Rublev, and The Seventh Seal

Dome Vongvises

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Between now and the time that U.K. plays Mississippi State in College F-Ball this weekend, I'll have an opportunity to catch at least one of these movies. A media library has the Criterion Versions of The Seventh Seal and Joan of Arc, and my local video store has Andrei Rublev. I'm particularly interested in knowing what I'm getting myself into. What do I need to look for in these films? Can you enjoy them at face value? Do they require repeat viewings? Any help from the elders is appreciated

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Jason_Els

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"Andrei Rublev"-- If you've ever read a Russian novel then this is a Russian novel of a movie. It's long, quiet, long, uplifting, long, and did I mention long? And if it technically isn't long it sure feels like it. But it is uplifting and inspiring. Like, "The Name of the Rose" it conveys what I think is the real feeling of medeival life. It's less about symbolism than story telling so no, you might not have to watch it again. You can get up to pee and get a drink without missing too much.
"Seventh Seal"-- Oh yeah you need to watch this again. And again. And again. There are layers upon layers of symbolism. If you see things in it that you know you've seen elsewhere keep in mind that like "Citizen Kane" it was all done here first. If there are landmarks in the architecture of film history then this is one of the cornerstones. Complex but accessible in its apparent simplicity it is modern and existentialist-- like Camus going medeival. For all of that though it's surprisingly watchable and a good story. The ending is sublime. This one takes time to digest like any Bergman film. You can go pee if you're a guy but pause it for getting a drink.
"Passion of Joan of Arc"-- This is in a different catagory altogether. It's a life-altering experience. It's not even cinema. It's like a historical log and so deeply moving/disturbing/uplifting that I'm not sure I'd want to watch it in a crowd. Just be sure you can crank the soundtrack; it only amplifies what you see on the screen. I think those of Christian faith may find it to be particularly inspirational and perhaps an act of devotion. Its depth and intensity are unmatched in the entirety of cinematic history and Falconetti's performance is the single finest ever seen on screen. Forget about doing anything else when watching this. Bring tissues and an uncynical, earnest heart.
I'll quote Ebert here:
You cannot know the history of silent film unless you know the face of Renee Maria Falconetti. In a medium without words, where the filmmakers believed that the camera captured the essence of characters through their faces, to see Falconetti in Dreyer's ``The Passion of Joan of Arc'' (1928) is to look into eyes that will never leave you.
Jason
[Edited last by Jason_Els on October 31, 2001 at 08:34 PM]
 

Pascal A

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All three films are slow paced, so if you're looking to "kill" a few hours without being in a contemplative mood (or at least have a great deal of patience
), you will probably be frustrated. Having said that, the next filter would probably be what topic would interest you:
Andrei Rublev is somewhat about medieval life, but more appropriately, it is about the place of a spiritual artist (the monk, Rublev) in a chaotic, senseless, and barbaric pagan world. Although there are a number of battle sequences, it is not an action film. The film is about finding inspiration when there is nothing but destruction and despair around you. If you are looking for a first experience in Tarkovsky, this is a good one to start with.
The Seventh Seal is not a film that I would recommend as a primer to Ingmar Bergman because it is fairly cumbersome and an intellectually posturing film. The themes are similar to Andrei Rublev in that it is about how a person should live his life in a world of death and suffering. However, unlike Rublev, Block is a warrior and so his quest to "live" is more existential than spiritual or artistic. If you're not at all predisposed to art cinema, then this may prove to be a frustrating experience because the actions are all either symbolic or metaphoric. If you're looking for an introduction to Ingmar Bergman in general, I would recommend Cries and Whispers or Autumn Sonata instead, both of which are also on DVD. An even better introduction is Wild Strawberries or Through a Glass Darkly, but they are only available on VHS.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is a great film to familiarize yourself with the unique film language of Carl Theodor Dreyer. In this film, only the opening scene is in long take, medium shot, everything else is a rapid succession of variable distance close ups, using variations in light and shadow, with no makeup. The dialogue is a straight transcript of the inquisition of Joan of Arc distilled into one long and harrowing trial, and as a result, the film is quite claustrophobic and "intense". Of the three films, The Passion of Joan of Arc is the least overtly art film, if only because Dreyer preceded the label.
My suggestion is, for the role of the artist and struggle for spirituality, go with Andrei Rublev. For a philosophical discourse on death, go with The Seventh Seal. For a film on spiritual faith and human suffering, go with The Passion of Joan of Arc.
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[Edited last by Pascal A on November 01, 2001 at 09:52 AM]
 

Dome Vongvises

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The Seventh Seal
Score: A-

- pacing
- dialogue
- easily accessible, yet attaining layers of complexity
- cinematography
- costuming
- the women
- make-up

- questionable "acting" sequence
Reviewer's Tilt:

This movie has been on my must-see for quite some time now. Of course, a vast majority of the appeal is the cool-looking dude that is known as Death. Before I start going to my review, I must make two mentions that the film brought to my immediate attention. 1. This is one of the very few films that perfectly balances art and entertainment and 2. All women from Sweden are hot.
This is my first ever Ingmar Bergmen film. I've heard of his work, but I never took the time to watch any of his movies until now. And I must say that I'm very glad I did. The Seventh Seal, in the most simple terms, is the highly allegorical tale of a knight and his squire as they travel home from the Crusades. The knight, played by Max Von Sydow, is confronted by Death himself. Wishing to prolong his life in order to restore his "faith", the knight challenges Death to a game of chess. Along the way, the knight and squire meet and come upon various characters who become part of the journey. Themes such as faith, God, and the meaning of life serve as motifs throughout the film.
Where in the hell do I begin? Let's start with the knight character, excellently portrayed by Max Von Sydow. He's kind of symbolic of the people I see everyday: people who do not wish for belief in God, but rather knowledge of Him. Even with Death himself, the knight doesn't find his answer. He also tries to find the answer with a supposed witch who is to be burned at the stake.
In stark contrast to the knight is the actor, Joseph. He has "visions" of Holy things, such as the vision of Mary and Christ that brings tears to his eyes. It's almost kind of like faith "justified". He possesses the so-called knowledge that the knight seeks, but never really attains.
The family that Joseph has is the one bright spot in the movie. The family, happy, healthy, and cheerful, is in stark contrast the people who are suffering from the Bubonic Plague. On a superficial note, it doesn't hurt Joseph either that he has a beautiful child and an extremely gorgeous wife. Anyway, the family sort of represents hope in the midst of misery and despair. This can be represented by the knight's uncharacteristically cheerful mood when he's with the family eating strawberries and milk.
One of the best and most obvious touches to the movie is how the struggle between living and dying is represented as a game of chess. Like life, chess is a game of trials and rules that everyone must try to adhere. I thought it was an interesting plot device that the chess game between the knight and Death was never really finished in one setting.
Another nice touch, albeit quite funny and comedic, is when Death is sawing a tree to make somebody fall off of it. The other actor in Joseph's troupe is in a tree as Death continues to saw away at the base. This can possibly represent how in the end, no one can really escape Death. This is the only explanation I can come up with, considering the fact that I've always wondered why the guy simply just didn't jump off the tree and run like bastard.
I can go on and on about the heaps and mounds of symbolism, but that would give too much of the movie away, and I've got other things to do, like eat dinner and get some bedrest for this stupid cold I have. The Seventh Seal, IMHO, is the exact way in which a film should be: an easily accessible story, but with many layers of identification and meaning. The story is very interesting, and the plot is never bogged down by its heavy symbolism. I would recommend it for anybody who will take a chance on foreign film. Oh, BTW, did I mention that Joseph's wife was hot?

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"I don't know, Marge. Trying is the first step towards failure." - Homer J. Simpson
"Stranger things have happened..." - Wes Deskins
"It's not Pikeville, Kentucky. It's Pikevool!!! And it's not Louisville, it's Loolvool!!! Get it right, damnit!!!"
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John M Miller

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My very quick look at these films:
Passion of Joan of Arc- It is about suffering and nothing else. It is an emotional piece, not a philosophical one.
Seventh Seal- Bergman uses the character of Death as a vehicle to reveal what he thinks about God. While certainly having a dream-like element, it's thrust, it's reason for being is to be a vehicle for Bergman's philosophical content.
Andrei Rublev- There is simply way too much in this movie; there's no way I could pin it down to a single theme or thought. Rublev is spectacular if you can give yourself into it because it is so rich in both the elements that make the other two great. In my opinion it is the best of the three, but damn is it long.
Do you like to think or feel?
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Rich Malloy

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Dome, each of those three films are favorites of mine, but I think the one you're likely to have the most difficulty with is Andrei Rublev. I also think it's the greatest of these three films, though I'm completely loopy for The Passion of Joan of Arc (not to mention Richard Einhorn's brilliant "soundtrack" oratorio).
Fortunately, the Criterion release boasts a nice raft of special features that will help you to penetrate this film (and I do recommend you first watch the complete, unedited version as it appears on the Criterion disc, rather than the much-edited "official Soviet" version which appears on the Ruscico release, despite the much improved image quality of the latter).
Before you watch the film, take a good, close look at the "Timeline" on the Criterion disc. If you're unfamiliar with the few known details of Rublev's life and Russian history during his lifetime, as well as the details of Tarkovsky's life under the Soviets, you won't even begin to be able to follow the action. Trust me: make very good use of the timeline before you watch the film.
Second, immediately identify the main characters so that you can keep track of them throughout this film. To this end, understand that the initial sequence, the Prologue, where we witness the peasant Yefim taking flight in a balloon is merely meant to set the stage, to provide a taste of the themes to be explored. While certain shots from this introduction are repeated at key moments, we will not see Yefim again. The key characters to identify are, first, Andrei Rublev, Danill Cherni, and Kirill. As they all wear the monk's habit and sport beards, they are easily confused with one another upon initial viewing. But these three are the main characters, so make sure that you recognize their faces. In temperment, they are very different, and so this will help. Other characters of import: Theophanes the Greek (you should have no trouble keeping his identity clear), the Grand Prince and his twin brother, Durochka "The Holy Fool" (watch for her to reappear, radiantly, at a key moment), and the Jester/Buffoon (he, too, reappears). Foma, Andrei's assistant and protege, is also of importance.
Finally and most importantly, I want to point you to this article: "Andrei Rublev: Religious Epiphany in Art", Nigel Savio D'Sa, The Journal of Religion and Film, Vol.3/No.2; 1999. I think it will prove invaluable to you, and any first-time viewer of RUBLEV, even though it will come at the expense of some spoilers. By revealing Tarkovsky's intent - to provoke a religious epiphany in the viewer - and by detailing some of the ways he attempts to achieve this, you will begin to understand Tarkovsky's unique cinematic language and how to "read" it.... more correctly, how to experience it. Go here:
http://www.unomaha.edu/~wwwjrf/saviodsa.htm
Al's DVD Collection
Al's Criterion Collection
[Edited last by Al Brown on November 08, 2001 at 04:58 PM]
 

Dome Vongvises

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The Passion of Joan of Arc
Overall Score: A-

- acting
- cinematography
- editing

- questionable editing in parts
- pacing
It's often a good thing when a person has no formal expectations going into a movie. A viewer is more likely to be surprised than disappointed. That is the way I feel with Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc.
For the record, I had to watch the movie with the "Voices of Light" accompaniment. Call me J6P or an insufferable ignorant, but there's no way in hell I can watch a truly silent movie. Why should I cheat myself out of the experience that the first audience had while watching this movie?
With that out of the way, I'm very surprised by this movie. I was expecting something completely arthouse (pretentious, experimentally bizarre, frustratingly convoluted narratives, etc. etc.), but the film is readily accessible to anybody willing to give their time to watching this magnificent piece of cinema.
Let's get the bad points out of the way first because they're few and far between. While the film makes some excellent cuts and edits, some of them just seemed out of place. For example, I can't exactly remember when this happens, but their's a cut to a crippled man in a wheel cart. When you consider how the movie makes certain cuts and edits to create, for a lack of a better word, juxtaposition to contrast Joan of Arc and anything else (poor memory blows
), the insertion of the crippled man seems bizzare.
While it is no fault of the film at all and even essential to the plot, I found the languid pacing putting me to sleep. Maybe I was tired from the day, or maybe I hadn't had anything to eat, and I had no energy to watch. Whatever it was, the film kept seemed to keep dragging on and on and on...
Now let's get to the best part of the movie: acting. Maria Falconetti puts up one of the best performances I've seen in a long time (when the best performance you've seen in a long while is Julia Roberts in Erin Brockavich, that's saying something. Not saying it was a bad performance or anything, but you get the point
). To understand and sympthize with the tragic character of Joan of Arc, the actress portraying her must be convincing, and Falconetti does this straight from the start and never lets up. The streaming of tears, the pain in her eyes, and the sadness on her face help make this happen. She's torned between her "duty to God" and the fear of what will happen to her.
Editing and cinematography work hand in hand to create some extremely well-crafted shots. Each cut to a closeup of a person's face serves not one, but two narrative functions: the difference in attitudes towards Joan of Arc, and as a symbolic mirror of the struggles within Joan herself (oh great, I can't believe I said that).
If there ever was a movie that can be used in the textbook of filmmaking, The Passion of Joan of Arc is worth a look.
Edit: Changed the Overall Score.
 

Rich Malloy

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I'm glad you chose to watch it with Einhorn's VOICES OF LIGHT - a great piece that made more than a few "best of the century" lists.
But only a "B+"? And you think the editing is "languidly paced"?
There must be more cuts in that film than any that came before and most that came after - the editing is practically hyperactive!
Methinks you gonna have some big trouble with ANDREI RUBLEV!
 

Gary Tooze

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I agree with Al,

It must be considered one of the greatest editing jobs ever for a silent film... perhaps you were mistaking the "questionable" for the "art" ( which is half of it ). Even without the music this is a masterpiece of cinema, but with it on DVD it will still continue to be my choice ( and our websites' ) for the greatest DVD ever...

Tarkovsky does require an initiation period... but I say: go through it with Rublev as I did... but will defintely be a test for you... Don't be deterred if after the first 2 hours you are scratching your head and asking "Which one is Rublev?" and "What the hell is going on!"... try to "feel" as opposed to "analyze"... perhaps that will help.
 

Dome Vongvises

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This is probably where I need to clarify a few things.
When I said "languid pacing", I meant that in conjunction with the physical state I was watching it in. Much like Titanic, you pretty much know the end of the story: Joan of Arc is going to be burned at the stake. So in a way, the pacing was actually perfect. It built anticipation and made the audience sympathize with Joan's pain and anguish. Being hungry and sleepy, I just wanted the movie to end. So to restate the way I felt about the pacing, no it wasn't languid, I just wanted some nap time.

Quite frankly, I found the editing to almost perfect. Again, the only, and I quote the "only" problem I have is the cut to the crippled man. Why is this such a minute problem? Well, I found that the editing in the film was of narrative functionality: you either made significant contrasts or noteworthy juxtapostions. I found the short cut to the crippled man on wheels simply puzzling. Where did he fit in the scheme of things?
Oh, BTW, check my edit. Come to think of it, B+ is rather harsh :b
 

Jason_Els

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So what happened to Rublev? You ever see it?
 

Dome Vongvises

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Jason_Els said:
So what happened to Rublev? You ever see it?

Yes I did as a matter of fact.
It's my first introduction to Tarkovsky.
I liked it quite a bit, although it's not my kind of movie to watch. I'll be perfectly honest, and admit that I probably didn't get much out of it as some other folks more versed in philosophical films would.
But I extremely liked what I did get out of it. Due to my lack of expertise, I'll try my best to articulate this.
You've got Andrei Rublev, a monk/artist who's trying to spread the word/love of God to the common folks. And I say love because it seems there's some difference in opinion in how Christianity is to be spread. The priests want to put the fear of God into the people. I believe there's this telling scene in which Rublev has an argument with another priest concerning the Judgement. Rublev wants people to love and adore God, not fear him as the Judgement might do.
But Rublev's got a bevy of problems on his hand. How can he spread the love of God when he witnesses Tartar invasions (I think they're Tartar's. I don't know much of Russian history), pagan rituals, and nekkid ladies trying to seduce him? Those things would hardly be inspirations to a religious man.
After Rublev kills a man in self-defense, he takes a vow of silence and never again paints. This goes on for quite some time until he runs across a bell maker. The bell maker is first seen as arrogant, and acts as if he can do no wrong. However, it's revealed near the end that he has absolutely no clue how to make a bell, and that sheer luck pretty much saved him. The only thing the bellmaker had was faith that everything would be alright. After witnessing this marvelous act of faith, Rublev comforts the young man and decides to continue painting as well as the young man should continue making bells.
I thought the ending was extraordinarily touching. Rublev sees a man who was willing to suffer for his art, and I think Rublev gets some inspiration and hope from this. Combining some of the information I got from Rich's link and some information from the Scrictly Film School website, I got some deeper apprecation from this film, something I know for a fact I couldn't do on my own. If there is one thing I can agree with, though, is that Andrei Rublev seems to not be the central character so much as the events and surroundings are.
I recorded Solaris off of TCM a while back, and I haven't gotten around to watching it yet. Now that this discussion was brought back up, I think I'm ready to take it on now.
 

Dome Vongvises

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BTW, is there any sigificance to water in the film? I noticed how prevelant the rain was and how many shots focused on flowing water.
 

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