In Jacques Rivette’s enthralling but economical epic Joan the Maid (1997), when Joan of Arc (Sandrine Bonnaire) leads the French army against the British-controlled Fort des Tourelles during the siege of Orléans, there probably aren’t more than two dozen men (encompassing both sides) in any one shot. Where most Joan films build inexorably to the final trial that resulted in her martyrdom at the stake, Rivette instead skips over that dramatic inquisition, having already depicted an earlier inquiry into her faith that occurred in 1492. In the spareness of his battle scenes and the obvious deference paid to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)–which focused exclusively and rapturously on La Pucelle’s ultimate trial–Rivette aims to give us a different kind of screen Joan. He and Bonnaire succeed brilliantly. At 228 minutes and in two parts, The Battles and The Prisons, Joan the Maid is magisterial in length but decidedly down-to-earth in style. With subtle camera moves and medium shots reinforced by the hard, cold light of William Lubtchansky’s photography, Rivette never gets visually bogged down with historical pomp and circumstance. Bonnaire does not float through the film borne aloft by divine spirit and studio glamour. She walks–or rides, as the case may be–planted firmly on the ground with a riveting inner strength. In the meticulously researched and historically accurate script by Christine Laurent and Pascal Bonitzer, it isn’t Joan’s relationship with God that takes center stage but her relationships with the men and women who come under her spell. Whether Joan is chastising the burly French giant La Hire for his cursing, or bonding with the daughter of the scheming lord who doomed her to her fate, the film finds the human side of the myth without recourse to artificial sentiment. Joan the Maid is being released May 22 on VHS and DVD. The package includes an extended essay on the history of Joan film adaptations as well as an extensive timeline detailing the events of her real life with comparisons to their presentation in Rivette’s film.
Other Recommended new releases: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) (VHS-DVD)
Also released this week:
VHS-DVD: The Beast, Best in Show, Carman the Champion, Dumbarton Bridge, Hangman, Horatio Hornblower: The Adventures Continue, Kept, Pay It Forward, Zone 39.
DVD: AntiTrust, Full Disclosure, Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life, The Interview, Nightwatch: Special Edition, November Moon, The Sand Pebbles, Shopping for Fangs, Something More, Tora! Tora! Tora!: Special Edition, Twelve O’Clock High, Von Ryan’s Express.