What ever happened to Dreyer’s Joan of Arc? “Nitrate Flames” tells the story of Renée Falconetti (1892-1946), the French actress that played the main part in the legendary silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” by Carl Theodor Dreyer.

From the luminous glory years as a theatre star in the Paris of the 1920s, to her obscure final days in the Buenos Aires of the 1940s, the documentary focuses especially in the collaboration between Falconetti and Dreyer during the making of Joan of Arc, and in how this performance, her only apparition in cinema, made an impact in Falconetti’s life, to the extent that it overshadowed everything else she did, before or after.

Starting from the few traces left of Falconetti’s life, the film intends to take a look upon the woman and the actress, both inseparable, and explore the complex mechanism that operated in the path between her artistic intransigence and her almost voluntary self-destruction.

In parallel, the story shows the trail followed by Dreyer’s film, censored, mutilated, burnt and lost for decades, until the discovery by chance of an original negative in a Norwegian mental hospital in the early 1980s.

The documentary is a collage that combines archive, new material and excerpts of Dreyer’s film, constituting an essay about the artistic creation fuelled by obsession that, like the old nitrate films, risk to end up consumed by its own flames.

The research for the project started in Buenos Aires in 2007, gathering the few surviving material and testimonies of people that was still alive who knew Falconetti first hand. Almost from the beginning I became aware that the available material was very scarce and decided to make a point of this in the documentary. If there wasn’t existing archive to resort to, I had to create my own archive, and this became one of the foundations of the project.

Besides, I wanted the film to avoid some TV documentary conventions, what means that I wouldn’t use talking heads, interview with experts, or revisit in present time places and locations connected to the story. This forced me to being more inventive figuring out the way to tell the story, bringing forth many devices from my background as fiction director. The deeper I got into the material, the more I realized that because of the stuff I was dealing with, the film demanded aesthetics and storytelling techniques more proper of fiction. Falconetti’s character, whom according to her daughter “was natural on the stage and theatrical in life”, a complex personality for whom reality and representation become quite often indistinguishable, certainly helped to support my approach.

In 2008 the project, then called “Looking for Falconetti” was picked up by the Archidoc worshop (a MEDIA program) held at La Fémis in Paris. During several sessions, I developed the story and its possibilities. It was around this time that I started working the parallels between Falconetti’s life, her portrait of Joan of Arc and the path followed by Dreyer’s film, exploring the fascinating symmetries recurring in all three storylines.

In 2009, the project got its first development support from Norway and Argentinian producers got attached. The two following years were spent with further research trips to France, Denmark and Argentina.

Finally in 2012, the documentary received production support from Norway and Argentina and the project entered pre-production.

In 2013 we shot 11 days in Buenos Aires. Despite the low budget, we managed to put all the resources we had on screen. We shot half of the time on location, reproducing situations with actors set in old Paris and Buenos Aires, and the remaining days in a studio, where we focused on the “behind the scenes” of Dreyer’s movie and filming documents and props.

Later that year, we started editing and post-producing in Norway. A new detective work ensued, tracking up archives and film excerpts scattered in different countries, and putting together the collage, which despite all the changes, restructuring and rewritings, resembled in a good degree the original 63-page screenplay.

Now, six and half years later since first entering a library in Buenos Aires to find information about Falconetti, “Nitrate Flames” is ready to go out to the world.

My gratitude to all the people that helped to make this film possible, family, producers, financers, collaborators, friends in Argentina, Norway, Denmark and France. Hopefully, Dreyer’s “Passion of Joan of Arc” will gain new fans, and people who was bewitched by Falconetti’s close-ups in that movie, will get a more accurate idea of who the woman behind the icon really was.

Mirko Stopar, March 2014.



A coproduction between Norway and Argentina
Written and directed by Mirko Stopar
Producers Tore Buvarp / Fenris Film, Maximiliano Dubois / Habitación 1520 producciones
Coproducers Mirko Stopar / Ferryman Film, Peter Bøe
Director of Photography Diego Poleri
Editor Torkel Gjørv
Art Direction Yamila Fontán  
Original Music by Santiago Pedroncini  
Sound Håkon Lammetun
Postproduction and Grading Christian Berg-Nielsen
Archive Research Laura Tusi, Fiona McLaughlin
Cast Irene Molnar, German Baudino, Luis Marangón and others
Made with support of NFI, INCAA and NRK
Black & White/Color
Duration 63 minutes (film version)





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