Renée Jeanne Falconetti
Renée Jeanne Falconetti (July 21, 1892 – December 12, 1946), sometimes credited as Maria Falconetti, Marie Falconetti, Renée Maria Falconetti, or, simply, Falconetti, was a French stage and film actress, notable for her role as Joan of Arc in Carl Theodor Dreyer's 1928 silent film, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc.
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Born in Pantin, Seine-Saint-Denis, Falconetti became a stage actress in Paris in 1918. By the time Dreyer watched her act in an amateur theater and selected her as his leading lady in his upcoming production La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, she was already a celebrated stage artiste, and had appeared in one film, La Comtesse de Somerive (1917), directed by Georges Denola and Jean Kemm. Falconetti was 35 years old when she played the role of 19-year-old Joan of Arc in La Passion. Her portrayal is widely considered one of the most astonishing performances ever committed to film, and it would remain her final cinematic role.
Many writers have claimed that Falconetti's performance was the result of extreme cruelty at the hands of Dreyer, a notoriously demanding director who pushed her to the brink of emotional collapse. For example, film critic Roger Ebert writes,
For Falconetti, the performance was an ordeal. Legends from the set tell of Dreyer forcing her to kneel painfully on stone and then wipe all expression from her face – so that the viewer would read suppressed or inner pain. He filmed the same shots again and again, hoping that in the editing room he could find exactly the right nuance in her facial expression.
However, in their biography of Dreyer, Jean and Dale Drum say that these stories are based only on rumour and that "there is no evidence that Dreyer could be called a sadist". They quote onlookers who described Dreyer's working relationship with Falconetti: initially in the production process, "Dreyer and Falconetti would watch the rushes of a single scene together, seven or eight times, until Dreyer could pick out a little bit, maybe a few feet, where the effect was what they wanted, and when they reshot the scene, she could play it without the least inhibition. Just those few feet of film had inspired her." Later, Falconetti became able to play scenes only from Dreyer's explanations, without the need even for rehearsal.
Subsequent career and death
After filming Joan of Arc, Falconetti continued with her career as a producer of light stage comedies, appearing with the Comédie-Française. During the Second World War, she escaped from France first to Switzerland, Brazil and then left for Buenos Aires, Argentina. Falconetti had suffered from mental illness all her life, and in 1946 she died in Buenos Aires, Argentina, allegedly due to a self-imposed restrictive diet after having become significantly overweight. Her remains are interred at Montmartre Cemetery in Paris, section 16 (her gravesite is not listed on official maps). Her grandson Gérard Falconetti also became an actor.
Inspired by Falconetti's performance in Dreyer’s film, the British artist Guy Denning made over 200 sketches and 30 finished paintings portraying her. The paintings were exhibited in the crypt of St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, Trafalgar Square, London in September 2010.
- Boroson, Warren (April 11, 2006). [permanent dead link] Daily Record. claims: "Her name was Renee Jeanne Falconetti. Her daughter, Helene Falconetti, in a letter to me now in the New York Public Library Theatre Division, states that she does not know where the wrong name 'Maria' originated."
- Maria Falconetti on IMDb
- Luft, Herbert G. (1956). "Carl Dreyer: A Master of His Craft". Quarterly of Film Radio and Television, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Winter, 1956), pp. 181–96.
- Ebert, Roger (February 16, 1997). "GREAT MOVIE: The Passion of Joan of Arc”, review, Chicago Sun-Times.
- Mayumi Takada, Annihilating Possibilities: Witnessing and Testimony through Cinematic Love in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's DICTEE[permanent dead link] LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory Volume 17, Number 1 / January–March 2006, 23–48
- Ebert, Roger (February 16, 1997). "The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)". rogerebert.com. Retrieved April 2, 2016.
- Jean Drum and Dale D. Drum, My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), p. 130.
- Jean Drum and Dale D. Drum, My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), p. 133.
- Falconetti, Hélène (1987). Falconetti. Les Éditions du CERF. ISBN 2-204-02845-2
- Jean and Dale D. Drum, My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), p. 130.
- "Exhibition Set–'Behemoth'", selection of Guy Denning's portraits of Renée Falconetti as depicted in La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928); works exhibited in September 2010 at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church, London, England. Retrieved December 17, 2018.
- Maria Falconetti on IMDb
- Warren Boroson collection of Renée Falconetti material, 1962, held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts