Renée Jeanne Falconetti

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Renée Jeanne Falconetti
The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) English Poster (cropped).png
Renée Falconetti in the movie poster for The Passion of Joan of Arc
Born(1892-07-21)21 July 1892
Died12 December 1946(1946-12-12) (aged 54)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Resting placeMontmartre Cemetery, Paris

Renée Jeanne Falconetti[1] (21 July 1892 – 12 December 1946), sometimes credited as Maria Falconetti,[2] Marie Falconetti,[3] Renée Maria Falconetti,[4][5] 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 The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The Passion of Joan of Arc[edit]

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 theatre and selected her as his leading lady in his upcoming production La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, she already was a celebrated stage artist 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 more astonishing performances committed to film, and it remained 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.[6]

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".[7] 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.[8]

Subsequent career and death[edit]

Renée Falconetti's Grave, Montmartre Cemetery, Paris

After filming Joan of Arc, Falconetti continued with her career as a producer of light stage comedies, appearing with the Comédie-Française. During World War II, she escaped from France first to Switzerland, Brazil, and then left for Buenos Aires, Argentina.[9]

Falconetti had suffered from mental illness all her life, and in 1946 she died in Buenos Aires, Argentina, an apparent suicide, by a self-imposed restrictive diet after having become significantly overweight.[10] Her remains are interred at Montmartre Cemetery in Paris, section 16 (her grave site is not listed on official maps). Her grandson Gérard Falconetti also became an actor.


Year Title Role Notes
1917 La comtesse de Somerive
1928 La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc Jeanne d'Arc final film role


  1. ^ Boroson, Warren (April 11, 2006). [1][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."
  2. ^ Maria Falconetti at IMDb
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 16, 1997). "GREAT MOVIE: The Passion of Joan of Arc”, review, Chicago Sun-Times.
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 16, 1997). "The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)". Archived from the original on April 10, 2013. Retrieved April 2, 2016.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Falconetti, Hélène (1987). Falconetti. Les Éditions du CERF. ISBN 2-204-02845-2
  10. ^ Jean and Dale D. Drum, My Only Great Passion: The Life and Films of Carl Th. Dreyer (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2000), p. 130.

External links[edit]