12.11.2006

The Premier Jeanne d'Arc Film



I’ve seen few six hour films that didn’t make me want to ask John Waters for a cigarette. This is one of them.

Joan the Maiden (Jeanne la Pucelle), directed by Jacques Rivette in 1993, is a straightforward, unromantic, and stunningly researched portrayal of Joan of Arc, played by Sandrine Bonnaire. Rivette reveals what pre-gun battle scenes would look like without any special effects: slow, lumbering, and realistic.

"Perhaps the only movie that offers a plausible portrait of what the
15th-century teenager who led the French into battle was actually like."-Chicago Reader
Each, approximately 3 hour segment was worth an entire weekend day, Joan the Maiden, Part 1: Les batailles, and Joan the Maiden, Part 2: Les prisons.

Here’s what the New York Times said about Joan the Maiden, when it was shown in the US in 1996.

“As a film, ''Jeanne la Pucelle'' is austere and handsome, propelled by an unadorned but magnetic performance by Sandrine Bonnaire as the doomed heroine and enhanced by music by Jordi Savall, the violist da gamba whose expertise in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music contributed so much to the authenticity and excellence of ''Tous les Matins du Monde.''

“Mr. Rivette has spurned the lighting tricks and depictions of dewy-eyed near-daftness that are such clichés of films of religious fervor in favor of a blunt portrayal of a simple young woman impelled by her belief that she is destined to save France. Although her faith is profound, this Joan does not so much inspire those around her by the force of her religion as win them by her willingness, from beginning to end, to sacrifice her life for her country.”

Although the film was somewhat unadorned, criticized by some as lacking in spirituality and magic, it was beautiful, plainly beautiful, which seems most appropriate for a film about a misfit who dressed as a man among men. William Lubtchansky must have been partially responsible for the grey, pale gold, cerulean, and red ochre palette of the film. I could have been shivering in the Met gazing at El Grecos and da Vincis all day. One memorable shot of a rotund grassy shadow, made by the absence of snow under a tree brought me back to France, more precisely to the Loire valley, Orleans, Blois, Tours, and the long rolling horizons hatched by steeples and endless varieties of spindly trees and old vines.















I’d like to recommend another Rivette film, also recently screened at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), “...one of Rivette's most memorable films. A mixture of thriller, comedy, and mystery, it is a fairy tale about two women and their adventures in an old house in Paris. The story follows a film-within-a-film structure and touches on the themes of memory and fantasy, with literary roots in the works of Henry James and Lewis Carroll.”

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