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Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia (1989)

7.2
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Title: Johanna D'Arc of Mongolia (1989)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Badema
Lydia Billiet
Christoph Eichhorn ...
Officer's attache
Sevimbike Elibay ...
3. Mitglied der Kalinka Sisters
Amadeus Flössner
Irm Hermann ...
Secondary-school teacher Mueller-Vohwinkel
Xu Re Huar ...
Princess Ulan Iga
Jacinta ...
1. Mitglied der Kalinka Sisters
Peter Kern ...
Mickey Katz
Else Nabu ...
2. Mitglied der Kalinka Sisters
Mark Reeder
...
Giovanna
Gillian Scalici ...
Fanny Ziegfeld
...
Nugzar Sharia ...
Russian officer
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Genres:

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Release Date:

30 March 1989 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Joan of Arc of Mongolia  »

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User Reviews

 
A lovely bit of meandering glory.
19 December 2008 | by (Denver, CO) – See all my reviews

Women filmmakers have always had a tough go of things. Making even the more ordinary, usual and surefire hits has been a fairly restrictive practice, to the point that when a woman directs a film like American Psycho, there's a novelty factor involved. Coming from a small New York publisher most pointedly called WOMEN IN FILM (and for all of you that go "WHERE'S THE MEN IN FILM MOVEMENT!?", you're the same people that asked why there wasn't a "White Entertainment Television" channel, and you're an idiot), brings us Ulrike Ottinger's Joan of Arc of Mongolia, the kind of film that would never ever be funded with any notability because it has no desire to engage its viewers in the most usual way.

Joan of Arc of Mongolia, in addition to having a fairly lugubrious, awkward title, is an extremely leisurely film. This is a film so unhurried that the plot strand that begat the film's title isn't even referenced until more than an HOUR into the film, not that it necessarily gets started then. The first of the film's three hours takes place entirely on a train, nominally the Transsibberian Railway, and we get an entire crossection of people, from regional expert Lady Windermere (Delphine Seyrig), to uptight German schoolmarm Mueller-Vohwinkel (Irm Hermann), from a young French girl open to pretty much anything (Ines Sastre) to singers varying from ostentatious Broadway queen Fanny Ziegfeld (Gillian Scalici) to rotund German cherub Mickey Katz (Peter Kern), as well as the cartoonish, old-school Kalinka sisters, whose primary instrument appears to be the gong.

But they have to leave poor Mickey (as well as an amusingly overzealous Russian soldier) behind as they arrive at his stop, and the rest of the women journey onward on the Transmongolian railway (as fey as Mickey may be, this is girls only), but suddenly (well, "suddenly" comparatively for this film, so, I guess, in a ten-minute sequence), they are held up (by a giant mound of dirt on the tracks) and taken hostage by a Mongolian princess named Ulan Iga (Xu Re Huar) and her hoard for...ill-defined reasons (yes, the film is so mellow in its machinations that it fails to provide reasoning for a forced hostage situation), but the real idea behind it is that it needed to get them here somehow.

From there, the film shifts completely in setting if not in tone, as we journey from the snowy train to the lovely Mongolian landscape for a set of interactions as close to "episodic" as this unfettered narrative unfolds. Where something like Nicholas Roeg's Walkabout matched up members of a modern, "civilized" culture and of members of the less encumbered, more spiritual world to show that they could NOT co-exist, Joan of Arc of Mongolia is here to provide a dissenting opinion. Having one of their numbers be an expert on a subject and a speaker of the Mongolian language is an inspired expositional construct, but it solves an unnecessary problem without any qualms, and other than an amusing scene where a clothesline mistakenly gets the schoolteacher chased by villagers with flaming sticks, they all get along famously.

This geniality is the real charm of the film. There is no manufactured drama, and the only time in the film that does involve an elevated heart rate is done plaintively, almost annoyed that it has to provide an impetus to get from enchanting ramble to graceful stroll. Ulrike Ottinger provides the film with such a gentle touch that it is a joy to behold even as very little is occurring. The film is not deliberate in the way many long, slow films are described. Very little of tangible value occurs during the film, and the film's central quality emanates from it's vagabond heart, it's ability to just sort of wander around, looking at nothing in particular, and keep you interested. The film even provides a splendid little twist in the end, as it's revealed that the Mongolian princess actually lives in the city, and just travels out here for the summertime, making a plea for humanity, against all the naysayers, the cynics and the prejudiced. As a counter to that age old question, "Can't we all just get along?", Joan of Arc of Mongolia provides its two cents: "Sure, why not?" {Grade: 8.5/10 (B+) / #9 (of 29) of 1989}


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