There are many points in our lives where we don’t know what to do. We get so spiritually lost that we ask God to guide us, to give us a sign. If only prayer can be upgraded into a more direct two-way communication? What if God can text us? Befriend us in Facebook?

But then, imagine if He indeed reached out to you. How would you go about convincing people that it did take place? Or let’s turn the tables. What if someone claims to have spoken to God? Would you believe him/her?

These are the questions that lingered with me after “The Passion of Joan of Arc.” And here I thought I would get, more or less, a history lesson about the famed French saint. The movie reenacts her trial in 1431, where she is questioned by religious authorities. She claims to have been approached by God with a mission to drive the English out of France.

Honestly, I would have been a skeptic too. Joan is an odd one – a teenager with a penchant for cross-dressing. Who is she to be chosen by God? What makes her so special? And yet, as you try to be critical of her, you begin to realize that it is really God you are questioning. Who are we to judge who God choses?

In actuality, Joan hardly presents any evidence of an holy alliance, but the movie truly dares you to discredit her. “The Passion of Joan of Arc” is astute in basing the screenplay from the actual court transcript. It not only lights Joan’s innocence but also muddies the judges’ sanity. You have to observe how these ugly mob of old men gang up, double cross, and trap this frightened, inarticulate girl. The psychological aspect alone makes it an engrossing historical drama. Pride, scheming, anxiety, and martyrdom are all in feverish display.

For an early 1920s film, this is indeed an impressive feat. Filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer is a visionary. He produces a riveting picture mainly assembled from angular facial close-ups, symbolic images, and back-and-forth editing. At its center you can find the wide-eyed, touching performance of Renee Maria Falconetti as Joan. The movie is a miracle of sorts, not only for its decades of survival, but also for its haunting and heavenly effect. I am quite surprised to be lauding such a silent film. Witness its power. Judge for yourself.

Grade: A-

Renée Jeanne Falconetti, Eugène Silvain, André Berley, and Maurice Schutz
Written by
Joseph Delteil
Carl Theodor Dreyer
Directed by
Carl Theodor Dreyer
The film is not rated.