I wish to begin this review with a confession: despite having studied a French degree, the lion’s share of what I know about Joan of Arc comes from an episode of The Simpsons. I was therefore excited to add to what is a disgraceful lack in my knowledge of a significant historical figure. However, while Lise Leplat Prudhomme’s performance of the titular character is both vulnerable and complex in Bruno Dumont’s Joan of Arc– one that surpasses that of Lisa Simpson – it is not enough to save this shambolic film.
The stunning camerawork of Joan of Arc should be acknowledged, however. In particular, shots of a large cathedral towering over the young Joan encapsulate the power of an institution she has no hope of fighting against. While the Church authorities are supposed to embody unswerving and moral Christianity, they liberally bend the Bible’s teachings to suit their own ends. Ultimately, Joan proves to be the only character who stands firm in her religious convictions, despite pleas from a religious elder who tries to convince her to renounce the voices she hears – and attributes to God – in order to save her life.
If this irony seems heavy-handed, that’s because it is. The dialogue is clunky, often spoon-feeding every plot detail and theme. By contrast, moments dedicated not to exposition but to silence – particularly Prudhomme’s effective employment of body language – linger long enough that they lose any power. Meanwhile, music is played in all the wrong places, making it more off-putting than stirring. While the film certainly has surrealist/Dadaist elements that echo French cinematic history, these moments make the film seem more like a hot mess than a Man Ray production.
Overall, although I really wanted to enjoy Joan of Arc, it proved to be two hours of all style and tedious substance. While its ambition – particularly in attempting to represent an icon of French history – is apparent, its execution has one thing in common with Joan’s: simply unforgiveable.
[Liam Caldwell – he/him – @paddingtonsda]
More information about the French Film Festival UK can be found here: frenchfilmfestival.org.uk.