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There are many deviations from the accepted facts of Jeanne d'Arc's
life as set out in her trial documentation and the writings of the
time. This said, the central question of whether she was a saint, an
inspired lunatic, wholly mentally ill, or simply a headstrong girl
determined to grab her chances while she could is well asked. Many of
the comments here assert that Besson makes it clear that the Maid was
simply mentally ill, yet I read the film as deeply ambivalent about
what was going on. Were her visions the hallucinations of a
schizophrenic? Were they given by God? What's the difference? More
questions are asked: Why does an omnipotent, omniscient,
all-compassionate deity allow terrible things to happen? What is the
meaning of kingship - to own or to serve? What is the difference
between taking the lives of individuals and killing en masse? What's
the difference between Christianity and the earthly institutions of
that religion? Where does conviction end and fanaticism begin?
Jovavich's Jeanne is plagued by the difference between her idea of utter submission to God and the consequences of doing so; by doubt over the veracity of her visions; and by the gap between her ideals of the divine rights of kings and realpolitik. She is constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown - is this a manifestation of her mental illness, or of her "burning for God"? And where's the difference between the two?
The film raises more questions than it answers, and that's as it should be. It is something of a shame that Besson's film takes liberties with the facts as we understand them (though history is more often about our interpretation of events than the events themselves), but in terms of raising important questions on the nature of faith, it succeeds beyond measure.
Some movies would probably try to make a more divine spirit out of Joan but at least Besson examines all possibilities as regards to what inspired her. I think it was as honest a film you could make about Joan. Her quest for revenge combined with tremendous belief in the forces above that ignited her fire. Through Dustin Hoffman the viewer can question her motives and get her response. And what a performance! Milla was simply breathtaking as Joan.
Joan of Arc the legend which was described as saint, warrior, frantic,
heretic etc. is brilliantly played by Milla Jovovich. This movie isn't
the typical hero stuff you would expect. It has many sides to think of
and gives you space to make your own thoughts about the character Joan
of Arc. And that is exactly what I liked the most about the movie. You
can almost feel what this very young woman must have felt to be on the
battlefield at this age, fighting for her vision, faith or whatever it
was. Intoxicated by the battles and her mission to fight the war for
god, for France.
Besides from that you will see a lot of battles. Great visuals and good to memorable acting.
Most people seem to get the movie wrong. They probably wanted a clean hero saga or some documentary movie, I don't know. This movie is something different. Sometimes you have to read between the lines, make your own thoughts. But as I said, that's what I like and that's what I want from a good movie.
THE MESSENGER: THE STORY OF JOAN OF ARC (1999) ***
Starring: Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Dustin Hoffman, and Pascal Greggory Directed & co-writer: Luc Besson Running Time: 141 minutes Rated R (for graphic violence, rape, and for language)
By Blake French:
Some classic stories just can't be updated. Example: "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet" re-released in 1996. However, one of the greatest tragedies ever told, the story of Joan of Arc, has just been proven possible to be relateable even with time as its enemy. Luc Besson has created a fresh-feeling new version of Joan called "The Messenger," a historical epic that, for better or worse, concentrates mostly on visual style and realistic war scenes rather than answering questions we don't already know about the characters in focus here.
The historical Joan of Arc was a poor young French woman, who believed that there were spiritual signs that ordered her to be a messenger to aid the King of France to victory on the battle field. According to "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc," Charles VII, married to the bitter Yolande D'Aragon, was very grateful of her assistance at the time, especially when Joan explained that God has sent her to lead French troops to war with the English and be victorious.
The visions seen (or imagined) by Joan are clearly brought to life here, with more effective qualities than ever before in a Joan of Arc picture. They are filmed with many unusual special effects, bizarre camera tricks, and a beautifully crafted atmosphere of imagery. In use with these elements to the credit of the depicted scenes, they do a good job of expressing the spiritual dream-like moments through Joan with an imaginative feeling of majesty and revealing emotion. The style, camera, and direction all contribute to making these sequences of the best material in the production.
The film was shot in the Czech Republic, as well as the country of France. Cinematographer Thierry Arbogast captures the courageous historical time period flawlessly in these locations. The battle scenes may get little off track at times; some sequences are meant more for brutality purposes rather than a strong, focused narrative story.
The actors interpret their characters with a precise energetic edge. Milla Jovovich has the ability to be a believable Joan of Arc, but does push the limit on convincing us. Some of the film's efforts are straining toward the idea that Joan was somewhat mentally retarded-and Jovovich does a great job presenting that. Other familiar faces found in "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" include John Malkovich as King Charles VII, and Faye Dunaway as his spouse, Yolande D'Aragon. Also the legendary Dustin Hoffman inhabits a brief but appropriate role as the Grand Inquisitor, and Pascal Greggory is The Duke of Alençon.
There are scenes in this movie that make the audience stare at the screen in awe, but also scenes that make us ask ourselves questions. Although much of the production is spent on developing Joan's character and motives, the film still doesn't manage to answer some questions being asked by viewers pondering minds. We never learn if the visions Joan experienced were a calling from God, or just a figment of her intellectual imagination. Was Joan really crazy, or only near eccentric? Were the physical objects that Joan felt were signs from a higher spirit actually what she thought they were? An ulterior source could have been Lucifer deceiving the trusting Joan. Or did the French actually triumph in battles because of the spiritual strength accorded by Joan, or was luck the element present? And I personally would have like a little more explanation of the Grand Inquisitor character.
"The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" is a serious dramatic tragedy, and it takes itself as that all of the time. Luc Besson has constructed a movie that is ambitious and inspiring, with no room for the compromising or modest. I recommend the picture weather you're a new comer or a veteran to the Joan of Arc mythology. Even if you already know the story of Joan of Arc like the back of your hand, this telling might just surprise you.
Brought to you by Columbia Pictures.
If it were not based on a true story, Luc Besson's `The Messenger: The
of Joan of Arc' would be a tale filled with credibility gaps a mile wide.
Since it is, however, a recounting of one of the world's most famous
of military triumph and personal tragedy, the film actually generates the
most interest when it concentrates on just those mind-boggling historical
Joan was, of course, the deeply devout, illiterate peasant girl who, spurred on by what she claimed were visions and voices sent directly by God - assuring her and France of a glorious victory over the advancing forces of the invading English army - managed to convince a desperate monarch to have her lead an army into the field, despite the fact that she brought with her no previous battle experience or even a rudimentary knowledge of the use of weapons in combat. We first see her as a young girl, strangely obsessed with religious piety, attending confession daily, running through the woods in a mad frenzy of ecstasy, encountering strange, inexplicable visions along the way, and, eventually, being driven to an intense hatred of the British by the rape and murder of her beloved older sister. We see the French royalty, so driven to desperation by the seemingly inexorable encroachment of the brutal British onto their native soil, that they lend credence to this child and give in to her demands, sending her out to lead the troops into what turns out to be some truly miraculous routs and victories. But glory is, more often than not, an ineffable entity that is lost as quickly as it is gained and Joan learns tragically that, once her original goal of restoring the French monarch to his throne is achieved, her services are no longer of value, and she is allowed to be captured by the English, tried by the Catholic Church, and burned at the stake by the English government for the crime of witchcraft.
Given this fascinating and astonishing series of events, it would be difficult to make a film completely lacking in interest and insight. And, indeed, `The Messenger' is, perhaps, a better film than many of the harsh, almost bitter reviews by many critics would indicate. The first half of the film is a rather conventional telling of the tale. The warrior Joan often comes across as a shrill, petulant adolescent who somehow never convinces us that she is, indeed, someone all these military strategists would follow. But, about midway through the film, the screenwriters, Andrew Birkin and writer/director Besson, begin to apply some psychological depth to the character. After a particularly sanguine encounter with the English, in which hundreds of decapitated and limbless corpses strew the blood-soaked ground, Joan breaks down in despair over the horrifying inhumanity of the sight. From then on, her actions arise from a paradoxical conflict occurring within the very core of her being - between the righteousness of her pious cause, the pacifistic teachings of Christ and her single-minded devotion to her king and country. When she is finally captured and held in prison before and during her trial, she begins to question the veracity of her visions and to ponder whether the motivation for her cause really lay in divine inspiration or an obsession for personal glory and power. We're a long way from the astute psychological insights of Carl Dreyer's classic silent film version of the story, `The Passion of Jeanne d'Arc,' but `The Messenger' does take occasional time out from its action sequences to attempt to explore the question of whether Joan's miracles were the product of divine intervention or of mere happenstance and chance coupled with a determination and passion borne of insanity. Unfortunately, casting Dustin Hoffman as the Voice of Conscience who visits her in her cell and speaks for the side of reason as she descends more and more into seeming madness, renders much of this otherwise fascinating section faintly ludicrous. Every time his overly familiar face and voice arrive on the scene, we are immediately thrust out of the context of the story and find ourselves tempted to giggle out loud hardly the tone one wants to establish as Joan of Arc marches grimly to the stake. Also, much of what he utters rings false in the context of the film's era; he sounds like he is mouthing psychobabble that would not arrive on the scene for at least another five hundred years.
In terms of dialogue, historical films have always it seems had to face an inevitable Hobson's Choice: should the writers employ language that reflects the reality of the time, thereby making the characters sound stilted or dated by today's standards, or should the authors resort to the use of more modern vernacular, enhancing the immediacy of the story, perhaps, but also possibly creating an uncomfortable and awkward sense of anachronism that weakens the verisimilitude of the film so painstakingly established by the elaborate set decoration and costume design of the film? The writers of `The Messenger' have, for the most part, taken the latter course, leading to mood-shattering declarations by the characters such as `she's nuts!' and `I'm gonna kill that f------ bitch' along with a barrage of four-letter word expletives with which no contemporary PG-13 or R-rated feature could ever do without.
Those with a queasiness when it comes to movie violence had best be forewarned: the battle scenes, though expertly shot and edited, register high on the bloodletting scale.
Of the performers, none matches in quality the exquisite photography, art direction or costume design that adorn the film. Milla Jovovich is, at best, adequate as Joan, rarely giving more than a surface interpretation of the complex psychological struggles occurring at the root of her personality. John Malkovich, as the would-be French king, for whose throne Joan lays her life on the line, has his moments, but the part is not really big enough in the context of the film to allow him to create a multifaceted performance. Faye Dunaway brings a cool, subtle intensity to her role as the future king's manipulative mother-in-law.
`The Messenger' emerges as an ultimately unsatisfying mixture of faults and virtues, yet, because it has such a fascinating story to tell, the film is far more interesting than the brutally hostile reviews that greeted the work's initial release would lead one to believe.
I loved this movie. It's visually stunning and the casting and acting was
superb. The story was already layed out (approximately), so Luc Besson
concentrated on Jeanne herself, the person and what she was like and why she
did what she did.
I have to admit to putting myself in Jeanne's place, feeling what she must have been feeling along the way. I think without that, it probably would have been a much duller movie, although probably entertaining.
The battles scenes, of which there were many, were graphic and brutal. Dismemberments, swords and maces swinging, lots of pain and death. The ensuing desolation at the end of a battle were weighty and gave a a horrible look at the conditions of the time.
My final impressions... Joan of Arc, if the portrayals were accurate was a driven young woman, deeply religious and deeply confused who was probably at least partially insane. If she were alive today, no doubt, she would be treated with common drugs and would lead a normal life. I felt very sorry for her and her situation and for the way that she was treated. I know people would argue that there is no need to feel this way, because she was clear and sure of her purpose. I don't feel that this was ever the case and she was sure only that she was going crazy if she didn't do something.
Movies don't usually move me this way and I'm really amazed.
Milla Jovovich may have been the only woman who could have portrayed a 'Joan' believable enough for such a film and approach as that taken by Luc Besson, one which stops just short of suggesting some sort of 'shamanic visionary' as opposed to a character labelled everything from 'deranged schizophrenic' to 'lesbian', simply due to attire, while 'hearing voices' (all historical facts). The key ingredient: the eyes. Not since Faye Dunnaway's unforgetable portrayal in "The Eyes of Laura Mars" (1976), who coincidentally co-stars as an excellent Yolande d'Aragon herewith, has someone captivated an audience simply by a look or a glance. Spell-binding, riveting, and as true to the historical record as one can expect for this most noble of French heroines, while adding a plausible childhood, Besson, Jovovich, an excellent supporting cast and the film were all but ignored for the honours they so richly deserved. Rating five stars (of five) and a film I'll never forget!
I found Luc Besson's take on the story of Joan of Arc thoroughly
compelling. Like all of Besson's films, The Messenger is highly
stylized, nicely cast, and visually powerful. The film is also
forgivably anachronistic in terms of language while developing a strong
period feel through sets and costume.
Joan was, of course, the deeply religious teenage girl who lead Prince Charles' army to improbable victory over the invading English at Orleans and helped re-consolidate French sovereignty. Joan considered herself God's appointed messenger, and France apparently saw her as an avenging angel. Today, she is commonly regarded as a schizophrenic. She was canonized in the 1950s, 500 years after her death. Regardless of whether God or insanity was the source of her strength, power, will and incredible courage - there is little ambiguity about her role in the salvation of France nor the fate that awaited her afterward.
In general, the acting is quite good. Jovovich's much-maligned performance is actually very good and exactly appropriate for what Besson was trying to do with the film. Comparing Joan of Arc to her other Messianic role as Leelu in the Fifth Element is, frankly, ridiculous. I believe that the problems people find in Jovovich's performance are problems those same people bring to the film. Malkovich and Dunaway are phenomenal. Tcheky Karyo and Vincent Cassell provide excellent support.
Besson strays from what we think we know about the details of Joan's story, but only to present the truth of the big-picture more accurately. His film steadfastly refuses to answer the questions many people will bring to it:
* Was Joan schizophrenic? * Was she a catholic messiah or divinely inspired prophet?
Why is Besson so careful about accurately presenting the ambiguity of the story? I think he wanted to make a moving film, but not a film which would unsubtly challenge its audience's beliefs. If you do not believe, you will tend to explain Dustin Hoffman's character as a manifestation of Joan's psychological problems. If you do believe, you may want to think of him as Satan, am angel, perhaps both. Thus, Besson, who is a deeply spiritual person, makes a powerful statement about faith through his metanarrative while maintaining an appropriately unevangelical position. He took similar paths in his more uplifting films The Fifth Element and Angel-A.
Highly recommended for Besson and Jovovich fans. Not a biography - avoid this if you must have the "plain" facts! Mildly recommended as a piece of historical fiction.
If you are wondering about Luc Besson's vaguely heretical "The
Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc", try to imagine a cross between
"Excalibur" and "Heaven's Gate". It looks great but the basic story
gets lost in the histrionics and excess.
There really was a very religious young girl who was considered a savior to France during The Hundred Years War. Although things may have eventually sorted themselves out the same way without her. Three years after her birth, the new tactics of the English archers were responsible for arguably the most one-sided battle in military history at Agincourt. The result was credited to Henry V's piety and he got a great passage in Shakespeare. The French aristocracy was almost wiped out by the battle and the English became solidly entrenched in France. Fourteen years later a new generation of French nobility was beginning to assert itself and it was the English and their French allies who were having leadership problems.
Both countries were Catholic at the time and both claimed that God was on their side, a bit like the football player who thanks God for the victory over another team that apparently God did not favor.
Although there are records of both of Joan's trials (her Condemnation Trial and her Rehabilitation Trial) both proceedings had their own political agenda and should be taken with a grain of salt. Besson's film seems to follow the generally accepted version of the story but takes obvious liberties with Joan's mental condition and visions. There is no way to prove or disprove any of this so it is probably as plausible as any other speculation.
What hurts "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc" is that Besson's best scenes are at the very beginning and set too high a standard for the remainder of the film. Jane Valentine is wonderful as the young Joan and Besson shows that his directing skills with young actors was not confined to Natalie Portman's performance in "Leon". This early stuff features some of the most interesting scene juxtaposition that you are likely to see in any film. IMHO it gets off to a better start than any film in cinema history. And the sequence where the young Joan is standing on a hill watching as the English burn her village is as visually stunning as anything ever filmed.
But once Milla Jovovich's grown-up Joan takes over most viewers will find it difficult to stay focused on the story. It's not miscasting, Jovovich is noted for aggressive and daring performances (see "The Dummy") rather than subtlety and nuance, making her a good fit for the take Besson wanted on Joan's personality. The problem is that while a viewer could identify with the young Joan, the older Joan is just repellent. Her story should be inspirational and tragic. Instead it is a bunch of comic book battle scenes and comical melodrama.
But it is worth watching for the production design and the beginning sequences.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
Besson's version of the story of Joan of Arc offended me on many
levels. The opening sequences of the movie feature the gruesome murder
and rape (in that order) of Joan's sister. This was completely
unnecessary and untrue. While it is fact that Joan's town was raided
several times and on one occasion burned by the English; Joan of Arc
had 2 brothers, but no sisters. This alone was enough to ruin the movie
for me, since Besson proceeds to build a case that all of Joan's
actions and her descent into insanity were caused by the horrific death
of her sister.
Besson also inexplicably created a sinister tormentor for Joan, played by Dustine Hoffman. Hoffman's character who continually played the devil's advocate to a clearly insane Joan, was just plain annoying, confusing, and yet another fabrication. Besson's Joan was never seen having the visions of St. Margaret, St. Catherine, and St. Michael which the real Joan of Arc was reported to have. Instead she saw a twisted and almost demonic Christ figure and the strange Dustin Hoffman character. For Besson to portray a saint and a French national hero in such a manner was purely offensive and in poor taste. Had Besson actually bothered to base his story on historical fact I may have felt differently. If you see this movie, regard it only as a work of fiction, for it bears little in common with the real Joan of Arc other than her name and that she freed Orleans.
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