Bruno Dumont (director)
19 June 2020 (released)
18 June 2020
Innovation, invention and experimentation amongst other …ions are essential for culture to flourish, challenge and progress. I will never take a sword to anyone who pushes the envelope, whether I like it, is another matter. Which clumsily brings me to Bruno Dumont’s Jeanne (Joan of Arc) which tells the last days of St Joan concentrating on her trial in 1492 and eventual execution. (That can’t be a spoiler?) Dumont’s film is a sequel to Jeannette and taken together are an adaption of a play by Charles Péguy.
Opening with Joan (played by ten year old Lise Leplat-Prudhomme who was a younger Joan in the earlier film) praying and being asked for a blessing we move on to her meetings with church officials and the military as they prepare for an attack on Paris to rest it away from the English.
What is immediately striking are the colours and the contrasts with the burgundy garmented church official walking over yellow sand of dunes barred on either side by bright green bushes and leaves. It’s unconventional for sure giving a brushed metal colour appearance.
But this sits well with the offhand nature of the film as meetings with characters coming and going in a very managed theatrical manner. And then there is the soundtrack by Christophe which is sparse - a very annoying one drum beat at the beginning – then diversifying into synths and orchestra. It’s at times disconcerting though usually well balanced.
The dislocation effect is also very present in the battle scene which is a dreamlike dressage and horse manoeuvres which are very impressive if a little too off the wall. However the main body of the film is concerned with Joan’s trial accused of heresy and the voices of god she claims to hear within the beautiful cathedral at Amiens.
What becomes clear very soon is that the clergy have no interest and this is more a matter of politics and a stich up between the English and the French king Charles VII (Fabrice Luchini) whom Joan had dutifully served to what she thought would lead to the destruction of the English forces in France.
The exchanges between Joan and her accusers centre on the veracity of her claim to hear celestial voices and the church’s self-interest in protecting their power. These are at times quite long winded but credit to the inexperienced cast who are pretty damn good who at times appear to be improvising and well. On the other hand some of the acting is ropey bordering on the bad. The three soldiers guarding Joan are poor with comic lines to match. Not Prudhomme though who balances reverence for her beliefs and contempt for her accusers throughout.
Joan of Arc has plenty of ideas; the invocation of her inner voice through song and the horse manoeuvres but these don’t collectively make for a very engaging film or a particularly fluid one. Peter Greenaway kept coming to mind which is not in itself a bad thing but gives some indication of what’s in store for the viewer.
Joan of Arc will be available on digital platforms from 19 June.