Matchup of the Day: Day of Wrath vs. The Passion of Joan of Arc
Today we have two films from Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer about patriarchy and repression – The Passion of Joan of Arc vs. The Day of Wrath.
There are two women in Day of Wrath who are victims of the prevalent hypocrisy in their 17th-century village. The first, an old woman accused of witchcraft, is hunted down and tortured by the controlling religious establishment. The village pastor has used his position of authority unethically in the past in order to secure marriage to his young wife. Knowing of his transgression, the old woman attempts to use it as leverage to convince the pastor to spare her from being burned at the stake. He ignores her pleas and allows her to be burned, in a scene that is quite disturbing considering the film was released in 1943.
The pastor’s wife, Anne, did not marry him consensually. The marriage was arranged when she was very young. Not only is she stuck in a loveless union with a much older man, she is constantly berated by the pastor’s shrewish mother. When the pastor’s son from a previous marriage comes to visit Anne falls in love with him. They carry on an affair under the pastor’s nose until Anne no longer feels the need to conceal it. She bluntly reveals the truth, which causes the pastor to die of shock. His mother, who openly hates Anne anyway, accuses her of witchcraft. The pastor’s son goes along with it out of guilt. Anne is left to, presumably, meet the same fate that the old woman did.
Day of Wrath was made during the Nazi occupation of Denmark, so some believe that the film is an allegory about Nazism. Dreyer has denied this interpretation. In fact, the film was not well-received by Danish critics and a pro-Nazi newspaper actually praised the film. The article “Figuring Out DAY OF WRATH” says that Dreyer ended up leaving Denmark to live in Sweden when the Nazis took an interest in his filmmaking.
The Passion of Joan of Arc is based on the actual transcripts from the trial preceding Joan’s execution. It is best known for the emotive performance of Maria Falconetti, which is regarded as among the greatest ever captured on film. Where it differs from Day of Wrath is in that it ends on a positive note even though Joan doesn’t technically fare any better than the old woman or Anne. She spends the whole film being grilled and accused by the clerical court, barely wavering in her conviction. When time comes for her to be burned at the stake the crowd is convinced that she is truly a saint. At the end of Day of Wrath, Anne appears to accept that she is a witch and is left with no supporters. So, while some interpret Day of Wrath as a pro-Resistance film in the face of Nazi occupation, The Passion of Joan of Arc comes across as much more fitting for that purpose. Even if it came out fifteen years too early.