While beautiful and hypnotic and with a great lead performance, Bruno Dumont’s ‘Joan of Arc’ is too slow and sleepy for its own good.
One-part sequel and one-part reimagining to his film Jeannette, Bruno Dumont’s Joan of Arc is a work of artistic beauty. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t have much going on beneath the surface. It is the rare film that I honestly felt myself drifting off to sleep in. For all I know, I may have lost track of minutes of the story. Or maybe there just wasn’t a story in the first place.
Dumont is an award-winning French filmmaker and has had large amounts of success in his home country. When he released Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc in 2017, it was to vast acclaim. Jeannette was a musical comedy, focusing on a period in the saint’s life before she was known by all. With such a different focal point on the hero of France and a great performance from Lise Leplat Prudhomme as the title character, the film became an instant hit. Yet with Joan of Arc, some of the same pieces return to far diminished effects. Prudhomme is still amazing, but she is put in a far less powerful and freeing role. The film isn’t a musical but somehow has musical sequences that are built into the chaos of the film. Even the beauty of Dumont’s filmmaking is led astray.
Joan of Arc mostly follows the period of Joan’s life as she leads the army of France to an eventual defeat, followed by her untimely death. At first, Dumont’s film feels like it is going to tell a story that focuses on a young woman as she comes of age with the world on her shoulders. Instead, it tells the same story that everyone knows. Dumont seems to do everything in his power to be as different as possible from the classic film The Passion of Joan of Arc, which everyone really ought to see if possible. That film tells the story of a woman put to death for no good reason. Here, we see the woman as a child but otherwise are told roughly the same exact story nearly 100 years later.
If there is one thing that makes Joan of Arc worth seeing, it’s the excellent cinematography from David Chambille. Some scenes, such as the climactic fire at the film’s end or a scene where horses do almost a choreographed dance, all have a unique power. Also worth the ticket price is the music from Christophe, which adds a far-from-classical vibe to the film.
Joan of Arc has a lot going on at the surface. The great title performance, the aural and visual landscapes, and a story that needs telling in 2020. But beneath all of that, the film is fairly rote. I encourage you to seek out Jeannette or The Passion of Joan of Arc for a more unique vision. At least that way, you get something thought-provoking to watch.
Joan of Arc will be released in the United States in 2020. It premiered at Rendezvous With French Cinema in New York.