Criterion Prediction #184: The Trial of Joan of Arc, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Trial of Joan of Arc
Director: Robert Bresson
Cast: Florence Delay, Jean-Claude Fourneau, Roger Honorat, Marc Jacquier, Jean Gillibert, Michel Herubel
Synopsis: Based on historical transcriptions, Bresson reconstructs the trial and execution of Joan of Arc.
Critique: Joan of Arc was defined by her devout belief in God and, because of her religious commitment, she was burned at the stake. So if you think about her trial and subsequent execution, it’s a story that seems tailor-made for none other than Bresson.
Fatalism, Catholicism and spiritual despair, as well as being a story so specifically French, the events surrounding Joan of Arc have been in the hands of Luc Besson, Victor Fleming and Christian Duguay. But in the hands of doleful spiritual artists and neo-realists (Dreyer, Rivette, Rosellini), the story of the famed martyr is realized more with an eye for depth and perception than grandiosity. But what could possibly better serve the material than the disciplined ascetic rubric of Bresson?
Conceived at a pivotal juncture in Bresson’s filmography, The Trial of Joan of Arc emerged after the formative The Diary of a Country Priest and his arguably most well-known Pickpocket. His religious futility paired with his growing aesthetic precision–and one could say his (alleged?) Jansenist background–influenced his coldly soulful filmmaking, rendering a concentrated and exacting chronicle of Joan of Arc’s trial. As usual, Bresson opts for a series of tight-and-low compositions that are populated with hands, legs and feet. In his cinema of confinement, this narrative is naturally bolstered by the presence of shackles, chains and cuffs. Joan’s manacled hands indicate a crossover of physical and spiritual entrapment that once again stand as evidence that this story feels like it was made for Bresson.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: The consolidated but central body of Bresson’s filmography (that’s not already a part of The Criterion Collection) is likely in the queue for a Criterion release. Bresson is no stranger to this column. Une Femme Douce, Lancelot Du Lac and Le Diable Probablement; any of these would be a perfect continuation of Bresson’s presence in The Criterion Collection and the same goes for The Trial of Joan of Arc. As far as distribution goes, there’s an MK2/Artificial Eye DVD of the film, which would follow the pattern for a lot of other movies in the Criterion Collection (Weekend, Stalker, 45 Years, etc.) so everything is in line for The Trial of Joan of Arc. Let’s hope we see it happen. Plus, the bonus features could be fascinating.