CPH:DOX Nitrate Flames

Screened as part of CPH:DOX 2014

What makes a film Scandinavian? This one blurs the line a bit. Director Mirko Stopar was born in Argentina, but has been based in Oslo since 2001, and this is a Argentinian/Norwegian co-production. The subject is a woman who was essential to the history of Danish cinema, though she was French. Maria Falconetti, lead actress of Carl Th Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc. Her life should be of interest to any fan of Scandinavian cinema, and the film was presented as such, being shown in Dreyer’s old Dagmar theatre, and introduced by an expert on the old master. But, as the film showed, Falconetti herself actually disliked making Joan of Arc, didn’t think it showed her but Dreyer’s idea of her, and was much more interested in modern French theater.

It’s such an interesting paradox. Dreyer thought he saw through the chic actress’ layers of makeup, to the woman underneath, who could be Joan of Arc. Almost the whole film is close-ups of Falconetti’s face, what could be more ‘her’ than that?`But Falconetti was an actress through and through, the essence of who she was pretending to be someone else. And while Dreyer tried to elevate her to a saint, Falconetti was perfectly happy being a scandalous woman, an unmarried mother with a lover 30 years her senior. There’s so much stuff about the roles of women, back then and still today, in the long story of how Falconetti staged her life.

Stopar is pretty shameless about staging Falconetti’s life himself, though, creating further layers in the film. The film cuts together it’s narrative from archival footage, often taken out of context, and even at times presents the result as old authentic newsreels. The film-historian was not happy about this. It is pretty obvious that it’s fake though, just as it’s obvious the ages of the characters fluctuate randomly, as footage is taken from different times and cut together. It’s another staged theatrical version of Falconetti’s life. Perhaps more in the spirit of the old actor, than an austere, severe, Dreyerian one would have been. And the story of Falconetti’s life is much more than just that single amazing film role.

CategoriesIssue 7
Frederik Bove

Frederik has studied History and Cultural Studies at University of Copenhagen and University of California San Diego. He is currently working for Copenhagen Architecture Festival x FILM.