Try to work out what kind of filmmaker Bruno Dumont is and he’s bound to frustrate you. He first made his name with serious, provocative arthouse films, but recent projects have seen him indulge in more absurdist slapstick tendencies. Joan of Arc finds him combining several of his major preoccupations, but the result is a thundering disappointment.
Dumont began telling this legendary tale of religion and rebellion at last year’s Cannes with The Young Joan of Arc. It’s ripe with potential, but Dumont squanders the opportunity with a dry, dire, punishing interpretation.
It’s all well and good to champion slow cinema, but so many of Dumont’s directorial choices seem wilfully obtuse, turning a dramatic tale into a 140-minute slog. This film is a ‘musical’ inasmuch as full songs play out (mostly) non-diegetically but they are edited to such bland footage their effect is wasted. One can only imagine Dumont was looking for some kind of tragic heroism when he asked his lead Lise Leplat Prudhomme to stare into the camera for the duration of a four-minute song, looking visibly uncomfortable, but he certainly doesn’t manage to find it.
10 year-old Prudhomme gives a bold, spirited performance as Joan, and the decision to retain her for this sort-of-sequel despite her playing as old as 19 works as a clever casting trick to emphasise her youth and vulnerability. The script she’s given, however, would be a challenge for an actor of any age, full of verbose and dreary religious nitpicking. It doesn’t help that Dumont directs the dialogue with zero dynamism, turning a life and death battle into a medieval debate over terms and conditions.
Lacking any of Dumont’s usual verve and wit, Joan of Arc is a wasted opportunity and a concept that sounds much better on paper than on film.
CAST: Lise Leplat Prudhomme, Jean-Francois Causeret, Daniel Dienne, Fabien Fenet, Robert Hanicotte, Yves Habert, Fabrice Luchini
DIRECTOR: Bruno Dumont
WRITER: Bruno Dumont (screenplay); based on the play by Charles Peguy
SYNOPSIS: In the 15th century, both France and England stake a blood claim for the French throne. Believing that God had chosen her, the young Joan (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) leads the army of the King of France. When she is captured, the Church sends her for trial on charges of heresy. Refusing to accept the accusations, the graceful Joan of Arc will stay true to her mission.
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