Joan the Maid (1994) - DVD Review
By Widge - posted 02.20.08 @ 10:25 pm
Written by: Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent & Jacques Rivette
Released by: Facets
My Advice: Avoid it.
One thing I must tell you up front: I am not a student of French history. Nor am I intimately familiar with the details of the Joan of Arc story. So there's probably a lot of things that were lost on me with this release, seeing as how it's more an attempt at a history lesson than an attempt at a film. That's the way I think about it, because as a film it's very shabbily put together. Characters who start out doubting Jeanne or outright mocking her do an about-face for no reason at all. And for the most part, the characters are never introduced properly. Other than Jeanne, La Hire and the Dauphin, I couldn't tell you who many of these people were if you showed me their pictures. Granted, like I said, this might be because everyone can recognize who these people are from previous knowledge of the story. It's like me being able to know that Jubilee was a cameo in the X-Men movie because of her yellow coat--I guess somebody can do that with the knight with the red shield or whatever. This poses a problem, especially when you get into the battles, the little of them we see, they're sparse and confused. Who knows which side is whom and why? Not me.
And speaking of battles, why is so little of them shown anyway? Budget restrictions? Jeanne no sooner wins one good battle before the credits are suddenly rolling on Part One--a very abrupt and weird ending. Same thing with the trial--we don't get to see any of it, just the reading of the sentence at the end. So the two most (in my opinion anyway) intriguing parts of the story are left out, leaving us with very little to be moved by. Bonnaire's performance is oddly unaffecting: she cries, she makes pronouncements, she gives me even more reason to think that Jeanne d'Arc really was just a loon. The only thing that seemed to work at all was the battle at the wall of Paris--you can't go wrong with the sound of arrows whizzing by and every now and then striking a human target. But for the rest of the nearly four hour running time, there isn't much else that's effective.
And while we're talking time--why was it four hours? It needed an editor badly. The scenes end with just blackness, but they take too long to end to begin with--characters finish talking and there's another thirty seconds or so until we move on. And there's not even anything important happening. People standing around and the like.
As for the DVD presentation, the two discs are well enough, I suppose. The major thing that I found disheartening was the fact that the bios for the actors had no pictures to go along with them. Bonnaire's name I recognized, but without flipping back to the credits of the film, I had no idea who anyone else was in the film. Probably the best feature of the discs was the historical timeline, which compares the actual events to the events in the film. This of course only underlines my disappointment with what actually happened in the film, since so much of what is outlined consists of quotes from the trial--the trial that we didn't get to see.
Since one thing that I've read about the film (which again I can't contest) is its historical accuracy, the only way I can recommend this is as a historical lesson. For those who are into French history or the story of Joan, knock yourselves out--this set is good enough to rent at least. But as a film, it falls short and the presentation can't buoy it up.