(France 1994 336m) DVD2 (DVD1 only 228m)
Aka. Joan the Maid: Parts I & II (The Battles & The Prisons); Joan of Arc
I am sent by God
p Pierre Grise d Jacques Rivette w Christine Laurent, Pascal Bonitzer ph William Lubtchansky ed Nicole Lubtchansky m Jordi Savali art Mau de Chauvigny
Sandrine Bonnaire (Jeanne la Pucelle), André Marcon (Dauphin), Jean-Louis Richard (La Trémoille), Patrick le Mauff (Jean, the Bastard of Orléans), Jean-Pierre Becker (Jean d’Aulon), Mathieu Busson (Louis de Coutes), Florence Darel (Jeanne d’Orléans),
Despite the transcendental experience of Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, it never deterred other film-makers from telling the Maid of Orleans’ story. Bresson was very much in awe of Dreyer when he made his film, and strangely, though the subject may seem to have been right up his street, his La Procès de Jeanne d’Arc was not one of his best efforts. What’s ironic is that Jacques Rivette’s epic 5½ hour version (and it was only shown in the UK and US at the time at 4 hours) owes a lot more to Bresson than to Dreyer; the irony being that it’s not to Bresson’s Jeanne film, but rather to his later Lancelot du Lac. Just as Bresson’s Lancelot overturned the conventional opulence of Camelot for a more Spartan, pure version of the Arthurian legend, so Rivette reduces the story of Joan of Arc to its bare essentials. In doing so, he stretches it to what, to some, may be inordinate length, but which, in its own way, is mesmerising from the first frame to the final intensely moving fadeout.
Rivette’s film follows Joan from her first exclamations of being sent by God, through convincing local officials and clerics, to her journey to visit the semi-exiled Dauphin of France, Charles. The first film climaxes with her successful siege of Orleans, but in part two it’s all downhill, focusing on the increasing alienation of the king she fought to get on the throne, and her own belief in her own invincibility, leading to her inevitable capture and momentous death at 19.
The age is no small issue here. Bonnaire was only 26 here, the nearest to Joan’s real embryonic age that we have had since the perfectly aged teenager Simone Genevois in Marco de Gastyne’s La Merveilleuse Vie de Jeanne d’Arc. What’s interesting is to imagine Bonnaire at the right age, the age when she made A Nos Amours, Vagabonde and Police. In those films she was fearless, precocious and yet so fragile as to be heartbreakingly real. That’s the quality she brings here, but also the quality that perhaps she must have possessed as a teenager but wasn’t then portraying; namely, being completely self-possessed. At times, she borders on arrogance, and yet that’s all part of Rivette’s notion of humanising the saint, of getting to the heart of the young girl.
One criticism that could be laid at the film is that in reducing actual events in the way Bresson did the Arthurian tales, he withdraws them from reality. The siege of Orleans as depicted here is little more than a skirmish, the city’s defences barely worthy of the name. Yet analyse their framing, and the framing of the characters, especially in the regal coronation sequences. It’s as if, in his deliberately reduced perspective, Rivette is copying the two-dimensional Giotto style still the vogue in the early 15th century. And, in showing these scenes like the others, in such a stately yet seemingly matter-of-fact manner, it seems almost like a tapestry brought to life. It’s a truly riveting experience, helped not only by Rivette’s mastery but by Lubtchansky’s photography – especially of the Spartan, spacious interiors – and by Bonnaire’s literally awe-inspiring performance. It’s a million miles away from the Hollywood tradition, best exemplified within the year by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, of visceral, bloody battles. Yet maybe Joan and William Wallace aren’t a million miles from each other, both rising to almost mythical status in their native land, both driving the English out of their lands against the odds, and both destined to be betrayed and die horrifyingly at the hands of their enemies.