VOD film review: Joan of Arc (2019)
Victoria Curatolo | On 19, Jun 2020
Director: Bruno Dumont
Cast: Lise Leplay Prudhomme, Annick Lavieville, Justine Herbez
Watch Joan of Arc online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
There have been numerous depictions of Joan of Arc over the years (way over 40) with actresses such as Ingrid Bergman, Jean Seberg and Milla Jovovich taking on the role in a bid to do justice to one of history’s most innovative and revolutionary characters. Out of those portrayals, the most celebrated is arguably that of Renée Jeanne Falconetti in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc. The iconic image of Falconetti’s angelic face definitively changed the fate of cinema.
Bruno Dumont’s retelling of this seminal French figure arrives two years after the release of Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc (2017), a musical account of the religious awakening of the title character during Europe’s Hundred Years’ War. Its sequel, simply titled Joan of Arc (2019), follows Jeannette in her triumph against the English army before her capture and inevitable trial.
To call this film a sequel is somewhat misleading. Its predecessor, a light-hearted musical, now returns as a serious historical not-quite-almost-musical. It’s confusing. The film is not an out-an-out musical yet features spontaneous singing, which is unclear as to whether it’s diegetic. The characters deliver dialogue which initially deems to be funny, yet are followed by stoic and Shakespearean monologues. Is it funny? It is serious? It’s evident that the film is not quite sure of where it wants to be, delivering a rather sloppy narrative that is both tiresome and relentless.
However, the film’s strong point is the casting of Lise Leplay Prudhomme who, at 10 years old, delivers an admirable and rather charismatic central performance, despite a lacklustre screenplay. The same sadly cannot be said for her co-stars, who unanimously bring mechanical and almost contrived performances. There is no denying the film’s beautiful pastoral scenery – an accurate and authentic 15th-century landscape – but this is sadly not enough to derive from the film’s rigid plot and overbearing runtime.
Dumont’s previous films include L’Humanité (1999) and Flandres (2006), both of which picked up the Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Film Festival. His drama Hadewijch (2009) won the Prize of the International Critics for Special Presentation at the 2009 Toronto Film Festival. He is known for analysing religious beliefs within young women and his previous works prove that he is a master in doing so. Joan of Arc is not Dumont’s best work, but it does not diminish his undoubtable talent and avant-garde storytelling.