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With: Sandrine Bonnaire, Tatiana Moukhine, Jean-Marie Richier, Baptiste Roussillon
Written by: Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent, Jacques Rivette
Directed by: Jacques Rivette
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 240
Date: 09/02/1994

Joan the Maid (1994)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Trials and Tribulations

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This two-part film on two DVDs is the first movie from the great Jacques Rivette to make it to the new format, while most of his films are still not available on video at all. Rivette, of course, was one of the original Cahiers du Cinema writers-turned-filmmakers, keeping company with Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. He is among the most patient and thoughtful of filmmakers, forgoing any concern for length in favor of depth.

Though the Joan of Arc story has been filmed many times before, most recently in Luc Besson's dreadful The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, Rivette's four-hour epic Joan the Maid ranks near the greatest of them all, Carl Dreyer's 1928 The Passion of Joan of Arc, though it couldn't be more different from that silent masterpiece.

Sandrine Bonnaire, with her iron jaw and soft eyes, embodies Joan with brilliance, strength and dignity and deserves comparison with Maria Falconetti in Dreyer's version (often considered the greatest film performance of all time). Rivette's camera always stays wide open, filming spacious locations with smooth pans and few cuts, making itself an unblinking eye. The film concentrates on the day-to-day of Joan's life, beginning with Joan charging off to battle and ending with her life in prison. He uses few close-ups and very little incidental music. The battles are played out matter-of-factly and without fanfare (they look exhausting). Likewise, Joan's inquisition is performed with no heroism, just a simple demonstration of faith and stubbornness. This Joan shows fear when it comes time to die, but we never question her faith, as we do in Besson's The Messenger, when Joan's spirits come to visit her in the form of Dustin Hoffman(!).

Though Joan the Maid is one of the most exciting DVD releases of the year, the Facets DVD still lacks the technological advances that come with most DVDs. The subtitles are burned into the image with no option for turning them off, and there is only one sound track, but the images are clean and bright with little noise. The extras are mostly text, but it's all interesting stuff: Rivette's personal history, Joan of Arc's history, and the history of Joan of Arc on film.

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