The Passion Project
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
September 10, 2008
I left The Passion Project knowing what I already knew: Carl Dreyer's 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc is one of the most intense yet simple, grueling yet beautiful films (silent or otherwise) ever made. A dashing Antonin Artaud appears in it, yet even he pales in comparison to the haunting brilliance of Renée Maria Falconetti as Joan. The film is made up of extreme closeups and you get lost in her eyes and the sadness, faith, and determination that dwell there. Her eyes are mesmerizing, and create a totally unique, honest, and heart-wrenching performance.
It is not surprising that director/creator Reid Farrington became interested in Falconetti's performance. He has created The Passion Project, a multimedia performance/installation piece. For 30 minutes, the audience is encouraged to move around the perimeter of a square performance area. Four projectors are constantly running, playing the three existing versions of Dreyer's film.
Shelley Kay, dressed reminiscently of Joan and bearing a mild resemblance in hair cut and facial structure to Falconetti, moves about in the box. She is surrounded by picture frames of varying sizes that contain not pictures but small projection screens. Kay moves about in a dance-like manner, picking up the frames, which are each equipped with a hook, and hanging them on lengths of ropes that dangle from the ceiling. She moves quickly and determinedly, picking up frames, moving them side to side (at times this resembles a shield), hanging them, moving them to different locations, and on and on. There appears to be no pattern to this, and what makes this interesting is that, while the movie is constantly being projected, it is only when these frames catch the light of the projector that we actually see parts of the film. It is very interesting, the idea that the art is always there, you just have to have the way to find it.
However, 30 minutes of this becomes repetitive and it becomes more and more tempting to watch the projection rather than the performer. At one point, indeed, Kay stepped out of the box and crouched beside the audience and watched as well. Because you can't help but watch Falconetti's eyes. This, however, is detrimental to The Passion Project. Kay performs the movements with precision. Yet from the moment she walks on she just seems mildly sad and wistful and that energy is constantly with her. The brilliance of Falconetti's performance is that she is constantly, subtly changing without apparently doing anything physically. This is not to say Kay was doing anything wrong; any actor in the world would pale when put into direct comparison with Falconetti's Joan.
The press release for The Passion Project calls it "a vibrant archival film experiment...placing the audience inside the action." The most successful part of the archival part of this happens when we first enter the space and the three versions of the film are playing at the same time, next to each other, and you could see how the angles, timing, and brightness varied amongst these different cuts. While the three reels are played during the piece itself, you only catch bits and pieces of them (because of the fragmented nature of the many projection surfaces) and have no way of knowing which version they come from. As for the audience being inside the action,although we were standing physically near to the actress, I felt much more disconnected emotionally to The Passion Project than I did watching the film because of the repetitive motions, the unchanging emotional state of the performer, and the choppy way of viewing the picture that made it very difficult to follow the story line.