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Joan the Maid (1994) - DVD Review

By Widge - posted 02.20.08 @ 10:25 pm
Joan the Maid DVD cover art

Film:
DVD:

Written by: Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent & Jacques Rivette
Directed by: Jacques Rivette
Starring: Sandrine Bonnaire, André Marcon, Jean-Louis Richard, Marcel Nozonnet, Patrick LeMauff

Features:

  • Filmographies for the actors
  • Essays on Rivette and the French New Wave cinematic movement
  • Essay on the history of Joan of Arc in cinema
  • Historical timeline with a comparison to the film

Released by: Facets
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: No

My Advice: Avoid it.

Jeanne (Bonnaire) is a simple girl living in the 15th Century who believes she has a message for France. That message is that God wants them to whomp on the English and that the Dauphin (Marcon) needs to be crowned. She eventually managed to convince the Dauphin to equip her for the mission, and under her guidance, the French forces managed to perform that whomping and get Charles VII on the throne. But what did she get for thanks? Well, sainthood--but that was a few hundred years after her martyrdom.

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.

Sandrine Bonnaire as Joan of Arc in Joan the Maid

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.

Joan the Maid blessing

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.

Joan the Maid DVD menu

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Widgett Walls is Need Coffee's Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. He is the author of the novel Mystics on the Road to Vanishing Point, and two collections of short stories, Magnificent Desolation and Something Else: The Complete First Season. He is also co-author of the children's book There's a Zombie in My Treehouse! All of those books are available in paperback or for the Kindle from Amazon. He is also the narrator and publisher of the first unabridged recording of Seneca's letters, available here. He is active on both Twitter and Facebook. (If you befriend him on Facebook, do say you came via Need Coffee.) He lives and works in Atlanta, Georgia. He hardly ever sleeps.

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