Joan of Arc takes an experimental approach to the iconic story.
Upon occasion, along comes a surprising film that defies conventions. With mixed results, that is certainly the case with Bruno Dumont’s Joan of Arc. A sequel to his 2017 Jeannette: the Childhood of Joan of Arc, Dumont takes the reins as director and writer to adapt the play Jeanne d’Arc by Charles Peguy.
Since the story is celebrated, the imaginative telling is the reason for revisiting Joan, burned at the stake in 1431 as a heretic, nineteen years old. In 1456 the Catholic Church declared her a martyr, in 1803 Napoleon Bonaparte a national symbol of France. Without a unique approach, why revisit the tale that for decades has inspired famous interpretations, most iconically director Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, a 1928 silent film with French titles. In it, relying on agonizing close-ups of Maria Falconetti as Joan, Dreyer mined the trial records of Jeanne d’Arc to present a moving tribute.
In his experimental approach, also using trial records, Dumont stages his Joan as a series of theatrical exchanges punctuated with songs, one a rock ballad but the most uncanny in falsetto intoned by a hooded, senior cleric at her trial. Additional unusual characteristics include casting ten-year-old Lise Leplat Prudhomme as Joan (she also played her in Jeannette), talking and singing about battles that are presented as equestrian ballets, mockery of the church interrogators, jumping ahead over action scenes described but always unseen, and interjecting drum beats and songs at regular intervals in the two and a third hour running time.
Shot primarily on sand dunes in Normandy and in the gigantic Rouen cathedral, the film resists any easy categorization. I alternate between a grudging fascination and irritation. Metaphors suggest the repressive, dictatorial approach to gender and different ideas, but Dumont is unrelenting. His attitude and style are immediately clear, making this lengthy indulgence feel a bit like the trial that concludes the effort. In French with English subtitles, Joan of Arc streams on Kim Stim.