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Passion of Joan of Arc and Deleuze

by Alison Kozberg

In Cinema 1 Deleuze writes: “The affection-image is the close-up, and the close-up is the face” (87). Deleuze develops an argument posed by Sergei Eisenstein that the close-up gives an affective reading of the whole film. He writes “it is both a type of image and component of all images.” (87) The close-up reveals what it is usually not visible, it “expresses in a free way all kinds of tiny local movements which the rest of the body usually keeps hidden” (88) It is appropriate that Deleuze describes The Passion of Joan of Arc, a film composed almost entirely of close-ups, as “the affective film par excellance” (106) The film forgoes almost all of Joan’s life as a warrior in favor of the detailed documentation of her trial. Deleuze notes that the film navigates between the “state of things” and the “internal.” For Deleuze the “state of things” refers to the film’s historical context while the internal is more abstract, it is “irreducible to all realization.” (106) This negotiation replicates the diegetic relationship between the passion and trial. Each scene contains historical narrative and something that exceeds it. Deleuze described Dreyer’s technique stating “He prefers to isolate each face in a close-up which is only partly filled, so that the position to the right or to the left directly induces a virtual conjunction which no longer needs to pass through the real connection between people” (107) In Dreyer’s film even medium and long shots are transformed into close-ups. This use of framing de-emphasizes spatiality in favor of temporality and spirituality. The close-ups flow together. As Joan kneels before the tribunal, Dreyer cuts to a close-up that only partially reveals Falconetti’s face while the rest of the frame is blank. Deleuze described this space as “an empty zone.”(107) Deleuze believed this empty frame “induces a virtual conjunction which no longer needs to pass through the real connection between people.” (107) The empty space creates the connections usually made through a shot reverse shot pattern. Normal editing is displaced by the flowing close-up. As the monk moves into the frame with Joan the film fluidly transitions between close-up and medium, though maintaining intensity in each. The exterior conditions are represented, but in subordination to the affect rendered through the close-up. We see a column, a corner, a tiled floor; elements of space that conjure fragments of specificity but that forbid concrete spatial grounding. The tension between interior and exterior modes is achieved by Dyer’s suppression of definitive atmospheric elements –“Flattening the third dimension, he puts two-dimensional space into immediate relation with the affect, with a fourth and fifth dimension, Time and Spirit” (107) The space is not rendered abstract through this technique, but can be interpreted in infinite ways; space becomes “the pure locus of the possible” (109) The “event” of the film is Joan’s passion, not the proceedings of the trial. “Active causes are determined in the state of things: but the event itself, the affective, the effect, goes beyond its own causes, and only refers to other effects, whilst the causes for their part fall aside” (106) Deleuze asserts that we must not confuse the power-qualities of facial affect with the state of things that produce them, because situations grounded in time do not produce the “pure possibilities, pure virtualities” of the living matter of the spirit.

Passion of Joan of Arc and Deleuze

The clip from Passion of Joan of Arc that Deleuze mentioned in his writing.

from Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)
Creator: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Posted by Chang Choi