Renée Maria Falconetti




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Biography
A  L I F E

ac·tress
/'aktris/
{Noun}

    A female actor.

Maria Falconetti (Birth Name: Renee Jeanne Falconetti) (1892-1946). Iconic Actress.

    'The face of Falconetti is as beautiful as anything you will ever see on film.'
    - Paul Page

Biog.
Renee Maria Falconetti, Maria Falconetti, Marie Falconetti, Renée Maria Falconetti or Falconetti. Whatever name you know her by once you've seen her you will never forget her. All of a woman's names. Do I have the words to describe her for what words are adequate enough, good enough? How can a few words do justice to this most poetic of actresses? Her performance as Joan of Arc in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), her only starring film (there are 2 French film shorts she appeared in about a decade earlier), is the greatest perfomance in the history of cinema. I cannot think of Joan of Arc without seeing a close-up of Falconetti's extraordinary face in my mind's eye. And yet there are so few words on her that I can see. The internet has just the briefest of bios, seemingly one man/woman's words cut and pasted to death. Google will bring you all the same bios in a neat and tidy fashion but they will lead you no nearer her for their is no soul, no heart, nothing human in the words. The wonders of the internet. It's lazy really, as just a little delving brings forth more on her and 'more on her' is what the iconography of her life deserves. But 'more on her' is never enough ...more


Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928
Renee Maria Falconetti - La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928) | Enlarge Image


    'Maybe her life is legendary because we have but the briefest of outlines.’
    ~ Paul Page, 2013


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Her body to the flame...

'Jesus!' The last word we hear from her or read from her in The Passion of Joan of Arc, her last word to the world of today as she leaves the big screen and re-enters the nocturnal shadows of the past. Stepping from a dreamhouse in flames down into mortality; stepping from the present into the past. An unforgettable sight. An unforgettable scene.

Maybe her life is legendary because we have but the briefest of outlines. We are made to work - we have to fill in the blanks for ourselves. She was born in Pantin, Seine-Saint-Denis, France on the 21st July 1892; she died far, far away from there, on the other side of the world in Buenos Aires, Argentina on the 12th December 1946. The world was in turbulent, epoch-making times, big times that gobbled up all of the world. 'It was the best of times; it was the worst of times'. 'Best' because out of the 'worst' came art written, painted and filmed that shapes our sense of what is art to this day and will go on doing so while time exists, until Kingdom comes. Just some of the things her life co-incided with were 2 World Wars; the rise and fall of Fascism; the rise of Communism; the Great Depression; German Expressionism; Surrealism; the fall from grace of Silent Cinema and the inexorable rise of the spoken word; and the rise of the tyranical Danish film director, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968). History now places them side by side, forever linked, forever wedded together in an uneasy union.

Before and after Dreyer she was a stage comedienne. As far away from what we remember her for as night is from day. But from her mid-20s she could be found on the stage in Paris. By the time Dreyer witnessed her on stage she had a kind of fame - the kind I mean is the one found from word of mouth, from the printed word, the types of communiction that existed before mass media and the TV camera shrunk our world. Thus some would know her from an article and/or picture in a newspaper, from voices in the corner coming from that magical box of tricks called the radio, from a friend telling you about seeing her last night in a play and raving about her. A figure with a natural distance from her admirers. In other words she still retained a level of mystery, an impenetrability that has served her icon well.


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The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Carl Th. Dreyer

I have to be honest and state my intentions for writing what I wrote below. I want my words to make you want to buy the film through amazon.com or amazon.co.uk (direct links) (the UK steelbook edition released in 2012 is extraordinary and details are here) - I want as many people to buy the film to mmake it as popular as can be - to get film manufacturers to print more and delve into the past and come up with more facts on the movie. Sure, it is known to some but it should be known to more, to all. As the Diary of Anne Frank is known in the print world then this is the equivalent in the film world. It is that important. I have no doubt the films you love have in some way been influenced by something in this film - surely it is time to give it its due recognition? By all means link to the page (though please don't just cut and paste the whole piece - believe it or not it does take alot of hard work and thought to put into words what is spinning in my mind).

I venture that 99.9% recurring of people have found Falconetti through La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc and I am no different. It's how you arrive at the film that reveals your reason for being there. Are you fascinated by Holy things? Do you want to know more about a Saint. Is it the rumours that the film is the greatest of all time that have brought you there? Or is it something different? Me 'it' is different. I've been fascinated by the life of Antonin Artaud for years; that beautiful young man whose life and face was ravaged by mental illness but whose work on the stage and through words today places him in the pantheon of mortal Gods. So here he was, in a supporting role as Massieu, the sympathetic monk. His soulful eyes and beautiful face make him ideal for this role but the presence of Falconetti pushes even him to to side of the screen. Everyone is pushed there though they are all good. Close-up upon close-up upon close-up of every main character binds the film together to make it unforgettable. Eyes as big as the world; lips trembling in fear at what lies beyond the moment; mouths hissing out reproaches like a snake. Every facial expression conveys something the 'word' cannot do justice to: we see good and evil, sympathy and abhorrence, light and shade - we see everything in the faces and it touches our senses long before the sentence from the silent film appears. I've never seen such power like it. Faces seemingly pressed against the camera to beat our senses of what is fair and unfair into submission. For me it was complete surrender...


Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928
Renee Maria Falconetti - La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928) | Enlarge Image


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Dreyer...

How Dreyer 'bullied' out the performance of her lifetime or anyone's lifetime has long since passed into legend. Forcing her to kneel painfully on stone for long periods of time but forbidding her from showing any expression on her face so as to convey to the viewer suppressed or inner pain; depriving her of sleep; starving her; rigorously pinching her or using other methods of pain to elicit desired responses out of her (which, one must say, borders on the sadistic); shorning her of her hair despite her most profuse protestations and then filming her responses - these are just a few of the tales from the making of the film. His crew in Paris referred to him as a 'master, crackpot, and lunatic'.

Is it a coincidence that shortly after the making of the film she had a mental breakdown? Is it ever permissible to violate another soul's equilibrium in order to make art? It's hard to say; what I do know is that Dreyer is today considered a genius while I will never be. So, I guess, the question is is it permissible for those who possess such genius to live by another set of rules, of values or morals, to the rest of us? Do we all have the same moral compass or are some allowed to leave it at home?

She was 35 when she made the film; Joan of Arc was 19. Yet this was a masterstroke. Her face is young enough to convey the innocence of Joan but old enough to depict Death lurking in every shadow, in every word her inquisitors torment her with. Her eyes know it is there; that soon it will have her but it is her innocence that makes her stronger than the strongest of her tormentors. For she believes in her beliefs and there is no-one among her who conveys that strength.

Every emotion, every thought, is etched in her face and amplified by the camera. I haven't seen one performance on screen that is half as strong, half as moving or half as beautiful. The terrors of Joan of Arc, the terrors of a Saint, are captured forever on film. Who can not be moved by what she went through? Those with hearts of stone, I guess.

The face of Falconetti is as beautiful as anything you will ever see on film. 5ft4 in body; a 100 feet in face.

One performance that could be said to be in the same ballpark as Falconetti's is that of Eugene Silvain as her chief tormentor Bishop Pierre Cauchon. What a face! What expressions, truly, truly scary. I've used scan of him below in the role in thegallery below as you just have to see it. Maurice Schutz is also once seen never forgotten.

It is the greatest film ever made. There can be no doubt or arguability about it. It is timeless - Falconetti with her short hair could be a woman straight off the streets of today. A modern Saint. Not one second of the film looks dated, indeed it is so far ahead we just haven't caught up yet.

Today, it is at the very least Dreyer's most universally acclaimed masterpiece. it's as though every face is carved in stone, every close-up serving as a permanent marker to what the emotion should be it is conveying.

In some ways I wish I hadn't seen the film. It turns everything you believe in on its head. I thought I had seen truly great directors, true geniuses of the 20th century: Jean Cocteau with his lyrical hymns of La Belle et la Bete and Orphee; Fritz Lang with the vision of Metropolis and the dark foreboding of M; Hitchcock with his talent for filtering German Expressionism through the prism of Hollywood and still coming up with art; Powell & Pressburger with their British poems to 'otherness' in A Canterbury Tale and A Matter of Life and Death; and Carol Reed (and it still irritates me that he is not better regarded than Hitchcock as a British director as he put together films like a supreme Swiss clockmaker puts together a clock) for, among other things, making the greatest British film ever made, The 3rd Man. Seeing La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc makes me realise they are mere mortals compared to Dreyer and that these films can never approach the altar of art in the same way as this one has. Put simply, they are nowhere near as good. Or, at the very least, nowhere near as powerful. In the presence of Dreyer they are artisans.


Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928
Renee Maria Falconetti - La passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1928) | Enlarge Image


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After
Towards Death...

It is strange that Falconetti never pursued a film career afterwards or, seemingly, realised the importance of film. For she returned to the stage, producing and acting in light comedies. I wonder why. Did the experience with Dreyer put her off? Did she not relish or engage in the mechanics of making a film as it can be disjointed with 'the end' maybe filmed at the beginning of shooting etc. etc. Did she think there was no continuity? Or that she understood theatre, a play with a beginning, middle and an end, and lived off the intimacy of an immediate audience? Questions that I think will remain unanswered.

Such was her love for the stage she bought her own theatre, L'Avenue. The enterprise failed to make a profit and took all her money to keep afloat. With the German occupation of Paris, she moved to Switzerland, and, from there, to Argentina. Desolate, she earned a living by singing, acting or teaching. When World War II ended she attempted to make a theatrical comeback. By now she was heavily overweight and died in Buenos Aires as the result of a self-imposed crash diet. She was 54.

Ironically, in light of her starring role, she was cremated. Or maybe not ironic at all; maybe that was always how it was meant to be.

What I do know is what I don't know. Some reports that her ashes were scattered with the wind; others that they are interred at Montmartre Cemetery in Paris. Whatever, she lives on in film and will live long after we all have shuffled off this mortal coil.

© Paul Page - July 2013

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Gallery
I M A G E S


Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928 Film Poster

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928 Film Poster

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Renee Maria Falconetti La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Antonin Artaud La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Antonin Artaud La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928


Eugene Silvain La passion de Jeanne d'Arc 1928

Dvd Available (Direct Links): amazon.com | amazon.co.uk

YouTube: Slideshow

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Dvd Steelbook
L T D  E D N


The Passion of Joan of Arc Steelbook Dvd
Available: Amazon.co.uk | Enlarge Image

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