Review: Joan of Arc
by Kaleem Aftab
- CANNES 2019: Sadly, Bruno Dumont’s sequel to his heavy-metal musical Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc has no burning arrangement
Fans of Bruno Dumont’s absurdist musical Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc [+see also:
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile] will have one simple question about this less abstract sequel: where is the heavy-metal music? There is music, but much less of it, and this time around, French pop singer and composer Christophe provides some less ear-splitting sounds, which will delight the eardrums of those watching Joan of Arc [+see also:
interview: Bruno Dumont
film profile], screening in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival.
Here, Dumont adapts the second and third parts of Charles Péguy’s The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc, and it’s a more traditional film about the heroine who was burned at the stake, albeit with lots of quirky asides. So much so, in fact, that Dumont gets caught in a no man’s land, as the film jumps from intellectual conversations to silly gesticulations without much rhyme or reason.
For those worried about not having seen the French auteur’s 2017 heavy-metal prelude, fret not, as this Joan of Arc works perfectly well (better, even) as a standalone film. It also tells the better-known history of the warrior’s tale and one that will be familiar to audiences who have seen any of the previous versions of the 15th-century saga.
The first three scenes take place on the sandy no man’s land where Jeannette rocked, and here it quickly portrays the new Joan of Arc as a saint, a warrior and a romantic adolescent. The mix of comedy and drama is established, as is the emphasis on the musical score. The song lyrics provide windows into the characters’ thoughts and prayers.
Dumont stresses how young Joan of Arc was at the time of these events (she was burned at the stake at the age of 19, remember) by casting ten-year-old Lise Leplat Prudhomme as the heroine. It’s clear that Dumont is not after any authenticity here, but rather wants to make a commentary on the absurdities of life and power. Joan is criticised for wearing boys’ clothes, attacked for raising an army to fight the English and ignoring the truce, then put on trial for heresy. As the accusations are thrown at her, Prudhomme hardly changes her innocent, blank expression. While the central performer gesticulates as little as possible, the men around her, especially at the trial, which takes up a huge proportion of the film, are grotesque, over the top and exaggerated.
Throughout his oeuvre, and even in his earlier, more austere, films, Dumont has made a habit of depicting men in authority – especially policemen – as buffoons. In Joan of Arc, existential discussions revolve around faith, piety and honour, but in an effort to stop these conversations from coming across as pompous, Dumont insists on getting his actors to perform in the theatrical, extravagant style of the Belle Époque. But this insistence on wacky, comedic performances doesn’t always pay off. There are a lot of ideas running through this film: too many, in fact.
The locations are fabulous, which is a good thing, as there are so few of them. The cathedral in Amiens where the trial takes place is gorgeous, even if the judging characters sitting on the benches are not. The prison is an open-air one, nestled in the countryside. The story is kept simple, with all of the fighting happening off screen; nevertheless, the absurdities end up being just that – absurd.
Joan of Arc is a French production staged by 3B Productions, with the participation of Pictanovo and the CNC. It was made in association with CINECAP 2. Its world sales are handled by Luxbox and its French distribution by Les Films du Losange.
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