Criterion Prediction #185: Joan the Maid 1: The Battles & Joan the Maid 2: The Prisons, by Alexander Miller
Title: Joan the Maid 1: The Battles & Joan the Maid 2: The Prisons
Director: Jacques Rivette
Cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Andre Marcon, Baptiste Roussillon, Yann Collette, Tatiana Moukhine
Synopsis: Part 1 chronicles the life of Joan of Arc starting from her early days when she is escorted to Dauphin, articulating her communication with God and becoming a courageous and idealistic fighter for the French during the Hundred Years War. Part 2 takes place during to her capture, imprisonment and of course, execution.
Critique: Of all the Cahiers du cinema alumni, Rivette is the most consistently challenging with an ever-growing slew of opaque, lengthy ,irresolvable narratives. His slyly breezy disregard for all conventions (both thematic and filmic) gave us the thirteen hour Out 1 and the impossible street born magic of Celine and Julie Go Boating, so in leaping into a historical drama inspired by the oft-explored figure Joan of Arc, what could we expect? It seems like the most unlikely directors of the nouvelle vague felt compelled to make some variation of a medieval adventure film (Bresson’s own The Trial of Joan of Arc and Lancelot du Lac or Eric Rohmer’s colorful and brilliantly stagey Perceval). However, Rivette’s lengthy chronicle is a comparatively conventional (emphasis on comparatively) account. The delivery is austere, unadorned and deliberately paced. There’s little to no distinction from each part. It feels as if it was only broken into two titles for timing’s sake, seeing as each segment clocks in around two-and-a-half hours. Considering the scope, length and the amount of ground the films cover and Rivette’s unhurried execution, the runtime should be daunting. And yet the material is presented in such an irresistibly candid manner it creates a hypnotic lock on you.
There are intervals where characters record facts, dates and information to the camera as if in a documentary and yet it all feels natural and keeps a ruggedly consistent tone throughout. In a brilliant stroke of casting, there’s Sandrine Bonnaire in the titular role. While everything here is understated, Bonnaire’s performance fits the mold perfectly and her screen presence embodies a quiet sense of conviction and idealism. We see a more multifaceted realization of Joan of Arc. At times she carries an impression of calm and poise and at other moments she’s a rugged fighter, a leader and strategist.
This isn’t the kind of film you’d expect from Rivette but he’s the kind of director where you never know what to expect and a sober, two-part film about Joan of Arc was the last thing I would have anticipated. But Rivette’s full of surprises.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: After all these years, there’s only one film from Rivette in The Criterion Collection. Not to sound like a nitpick but it’s odd seeing as their coverage of popular French filmmakers from the nouvelle vague is relatively well-rounded.
But this could hopefully change. Over the past couple years a handful of Rivette movies (Out 1, Duelle and Noirot) have gotten Blu-ray releases. The latter two are available thanks to Arrow films (which sometimes serves as a warm-up to a Criterion release) but the Joan the Maid duology is available on DVD via Facets media, which is another preamble avenue. This has been the case with The Dekalog, Dheepan and, recently, Diamonds in the Night.