Too much talking, not enough acting. Despite the momentous historical event that this film depicts it feels like nothing really happens for much of the film. Characters move (very statically) between about three notable scenes, speaking at length but with minimal facial expressions, a distinct lack of conviction and relatively zero action. It was a conscious effort to keep myself fixated upon the screen. Not really what you want from a 137-minute long film.
The film is the sequel to Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan Arc (2017), and so it seems Bruno Dumont is keen to further explore the formative years of the peasant turned saint. Lise Leplat Prudhomme is cast as the young heroine but, unfortunately, I found her performance lacklustre on occasion. At first her series of defiant scowls and power poses are good signifiers for her rebellion against the Burgudians but they become an over-used trope by the end of the longueur. There are lashes of grit and determination as Joan stands on trial for heresy in the vast and vacant Rouen cathedral, defending her conviction to resume war against the English to Charles VII (Fabrice Luchini). The pious display of resilience from a young girl in front of a coven of elaborately-dressed stuffy old men makes the audience unabashedly root for her. She bats away condescending attacks on her beliefs, faith and character with sharp wit and considered rebuttals. Above all, it was impassioned display of charisma. A quality that was distinctly lacking for the remaining characters.
While the plot is set in the wake of Joan’s triumph against the English in the Battle of Orléans, and details the buildup to her less successful Compiègne campaign where she was captured by the Burgudians, the film is devoid of any battle scenes. Although I do not typically hanker for warfare some excitement wouldn’t have gone amiss. I found the film languid and laborious. Scenes seem unnecessarily drawn out by lengthy monologues resulting in a monotonous drawl. Some parts offer surreal relief, such as the sudden outburst of earnest song by one of the judges in the cathedral. And the exchange between the prison guards outside of Joan’s prison cell was even reminiscent of Python comedy sketches. The intercepts are jarringly enigmatic but do alleviate some of the austereness that weighs down the rest of the film.
If the first two-thirds of the film were anything like the last then maybe it would have stirred greater interest in me from the beginning but unfortunately the barren scenes left me stone-faced. I suppose it’s to be somewhat expected that a script laden with clerical rhetoric would not make for a particularly captivating drama. I would be surprised if Dumont has found himself any news fans with Joan of Arc, at least he certainly hasn’t with me.
Dir: Bruno Dumont
Scr: Bruno Dumont
Cast: Lise Leplat Prudhomme, Annick Lavieville, Justine Herbez, Benoît Robail
Prd: Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Bréhat, Muriel Merlin
DoP: David Chambille
Run time: 137 mins
Joan of Arc is available to watch on Digital platforms now.