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A reconstruction of the trial of Joan of Arc (based entirely on the transcripts of the real-life trial), concerning Joan's imprisonment, interrogation and final execution at the hands of the English, filmed in a spare, low-key fashion. Written by
Michael Brooke <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Although the story takes place in 1431, Jeanne's hairstyle is strictly a popular mode of the early 1960s. This is not a "goof" but an intention on the director's part to help young people identify with the character. See more »
Bresson's film is quite extraordinary. An entirely static camera, a repertoire of what seems like only a handful of angles, and no music save the unnerving thumping of medieval drums at the beginning and end, all add up to a form restrained to the point of stasis. The movement of the film comes entirely from the words and from the faces. And from the rigorous choice of those few camera angles. It is a moot point as to whether or not it is relevant that the script is composed almost entirely of transcripts from the actual trial. However, the viewer armed with this knowledge must surely be privy to an extraordinary sense of time-travel - a restrained, respectful and highly spiritual journey back into the "dark ages". There is necessarily an inescapable sense of people hundreds of years dead speaking through the mouths of the (non-professional) actors, whose limited but affecting range fits perfectly with the curious juxtaposition of past and present, of cinema and grace.
As has been pointed out many times before, one of the primary differences between Bresson's film and Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc is in their formal delineation between good and evil; where Dreyer uses light and shadow to point up the difference, in the Bresson film the contrast is more subtle, resting, it would seem, mainly on the fact that the Bishop Cauchon is shut exclusively head on, whilst Jeanne commands a variety of oblique camera angles. But the subtlety of the camera also brings out a fantastic sense of time, space, and place. The numerous close-ups of period shoes are all we need to have the era set firmly in our minds; the medium-shots - and complete absence of anything like a long shot - simultaneously reinforce the claustrophobia of Jeanne's predicament, and focus our attention on her, and that which falls under her gaze. The one notable exception to this is the short series of shots while she burns on the pyre, of the white doves fluttering above the canvas awning, suitable parallels with the absent characters of the Saints Catharine and Margaret, whose presence is felt and whose names recur throughout the trial. A simple film, formally, perhaps, but only in the sense that everything is pared down to a minimum, and the choices are only made with the greatest of care and most rigorous of logic. The words and the faces do not need embellishment. They need attention and simplicity, in the same way that the words uttered by the real Joan of Arc are simple and unadorned. A masterful marriage of form and content.
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