Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Trial of Joan of Arc

Procès de Jeanne d'Arc; Drama, France, 1962; D: Robert Bresson, S: Florence Delay, Jean-Claude Fourneau, Roger Honorat

France, 1431. After the capture by the Burgundians, the 19-year old Joan of Arc is at a trial whose verdict is already in advance dictated by the English. The Bishops asks her numerous questions and she tries to explain her role in the Hundred Years War when she led the French army in order to get France rid of the English soldiers. She claims she heard "voices from above", one of which was God, who ordered her to do so. After the trial went back and forth, the Bishops convicted her of heresy and burned her.

Winner of the Grand Prix at the Cannes film festival, "The Trial of Joan of Arc" is a good, though short (with a running time of one hour) example of director Robert Bresson's talent, who took the esoteric true story and refused to "enrich" it with pompous-bombastic-pretentious style as many other directors would, instead opting for an objective, "ascetic" and neutral portrait of the heroine. To make it even more faithful, he actually based it entirely on the transcripts of the real-life trial, which gave it a good dose of authenticity. Some dialogues between Joan of Arc and her interrogators, the Bishops, still seem interesting even today ("How do you know the voices were from God?" - "They were. I recognized God." - "Could you recognize a demon just disguising himself as God?"), though a part of the film seems slightly dated or simply needed something more special, because a faithful adaptation of a interesting event may not always turn equally interesting without some deeper directorial intervention.


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