The first film in Bruno Dumont’s two-part retelling of the story of Joan of Arc was a musical featuring nuns singing heavy metal. Its follow-up is, sadly, far less bonkers. Slow-moving, dialogue-heavy and devoid of emotion, it’s less informative than a history lesson, and far duller.
It begins with Joan (who was nineteen when she died but is curiously still played by the much younger Lise Leplat Prudhomme from the first film) now a formidable military leader despite her youth and gender, planning to lead an army to retake Paris from the English forces. But she is surrounded by duplicitous priests and religious scholars who begin to question her claim of being instructed by heavenly voices. After a crushing defeat, it seems that God might not be on her side after all, and Joan stands trial for heresy.
Battles, a siege, one of the most famous trials in history and Joan’s inevitable burning at the stake should make for gripping medieval spectacle, but this two and a half hour slog is more turgid than epic. The first twenty minutes or so appear to largely consist of the pint-sized Joan standing on a sand dune, being approached by religious figures in long robes who lecture her, and then depart. There are still a few musical moments; Joan stares up at the sky and apparently hears a heavenly male voice giving her instructions through song, and at one point an elderly man starts singing and inexplicably levitates. But the dynamic wackiness of the musical numbers from the first film has completely evaporated.
Joan of Arc’s most arresting sequence is a strange kind of equine ballet, featuring perhaps fifty armoured soldiers on horseback moving around each other and forming strange patterns as seen from above. Perhaps this is intended to make up for the fact that there is zero action, only one nobleman emerging with cuts on his face to inform us of what happened in the battle that presumably the budget couldn’t afford.
For a film that’s supposed to be about, well, Joan of Arc, it’s a one-note portrayal. Prudhomme carries herself with impressive conviction but she’s given little to do other than shout at her interrogators. Perhaps fittingly, she’s more of a symbol than a character, but this detachment couldn’t be more different than the raw emotion displayed in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc. A handful of bizarre postmodern moments, such as Joan being imprisoned in what appears to be a concrete bunker that looks like it might date from the Second World War, and a pair of “comedy” guards who could’ve been extras in Monty Python and the Holy Grail don’t alleviate from the tedium very much.
While this film might be of interest to fans of Dumont’s first instalment, others should probably stick to Dreyer, or Bresson’s The Trial of Joan of Arc, or even the rather silly 1948 Joan of Arc starring Ingrid Bergman. Horse ballet aside, this is a resounding medieval misfire.
by Laura Venning
Laura Venning is a Film Studies MA student from London. She’s particularly interested in female directors and Australian and New Zealand cinema. Her favourite films include A Matter of Life and Death, The Piano, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Cléo from 5 to 7. You can find her on twitter at @laura_venning