Monday, May 02, 2005

Joan the Maid (Jacques Rivette)

Joan of Arc films have become their own genre, like the gangster movie or the western, and like those other well-worn genres, they're pretty bloodless when approached in a conventional way. I'm not particularly interested in Joan of Arc, mostly because my Catholic upbringing, high school history classes, and interest in movies have caused an overfamiliarity with her life story, and Rivette's two-part film is the fourth adaptation of Joan's life I've seen. Rivette's approach to this familiar story is as unconventional as the rest of his work. While most Joan of Arc movies concentrate on Joan's supposed visitations from God and her trial and capture, this movie ignores the former and reduces the latter to less than one-fourth of the film's four-hour running time. The first half, "The Battles" (the title refers to psychological as well as military conflicts), begins with Joan already on her way to win over the dauphin and French Catholic officials and ends with her leading the French into battle. The second half, "The Prisons," begins with her unsuccessful attempts to take Paris and her subsequent capture, and ends where it always ends. Rivette is clearly sympathetic to Joan, but skeptical of her religious claims. He's much more interested in presenting Joan as a victim of politics who is used by those around her for political gain and gotten rid of when she can no longer be of use, and in presenting both the British and French church hierarchy as ruthless politicians. Rivette's Joan is refreshingly un-saintlike, and more a tired, working-class woman thrown into a bizarre situation. The battle scenes portray Joan's army as an ill-prepared and naive group of confused but determined soldiers with poorly behaved horses who succeed through persistence and the unwavering belief that God is on their side. The men even joke early on about the sexual tension inherent in having Joan along for the ride, sleeping beside them in the field. These humanizing elements give this historical film a forward momentum missing from a lot of stuffy, reverent, bloodless, "arty" period pieces, and the four-hour running time seems much shorter than a lot of two-hour Merchant-Ivory Aging British Thespianathons.

1 comment:

kristykay said...

I have to admit, I wasn't super excited about watching another Joan of Arc movie, even though most of the ones I've seen have really been very good once I relaxed into their pace. This one was so different though -- this Joan is older and more human than the other Joans were. She isn't some kind of angel or God microphone, but a woman. Rivette gives her more control over her life than the other Joans get -- after her mission from God is accomplished (Orleans is freed and the Dauphin is crowned King) she doesn't go home - instead she decides to take Paris, even though she admits that her Angels have stopped giving her advice. So, if you have room for one more Joan of Arc movie in your life, let this one in.

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