Joan un­or­na­mented

Business World - - weekender -

By Noel Vera (Robert Bres­son’s film is avail­able for stream­ing on the soon-to-be-lamented USA-only Film­struck, which will shut down by Nov. 29. It is still avail­able though less read­ily on Ama­zon and should ideally be avail­able on a stream­ing ser­vice ac­ces­si­ble ev­ery­where in­clud­ing the Philip­pines.) THE first film to come to mind watch­ing this stony ground of a pic­ture is Carl Th. Dreyer’s silent film, a won­drous series of gi­gan­tic close­ups shuf­fled through at speed, ar­guably one of the most revered and the best-known ver­sion of the story. Robert Bres­son’s re­sponse? “Grotesque buf­fooner­ies.” Call The Trial of Joan of Arc (Pro­ces de Jeanne d’Arc) Bres­son’s more mea­sured re­sponse. Where Dreyer was prof­li­gate in his pro­duc­tion — he had an elab­o­rate cas­tle set built com­plete with large court­yard and tor­ture cham­ber then largely ig­nored it, to close in on the faces — Bres­son films cob­ble­stones, heavy wooden doors, a crack in a cell wall through which light gleams, sud­denly in­ter­rupted (some­one steps up close to peer at Joan). Not quite true that Bres­son avoids close­ups but his is an oblique style: in­stead of Joan’s face (or — as with Dreyer — fo­cus­ing al­most ex­clu­sively on Joan’s face) he looks at Joan’s feet pad­ding across the floor or her hands be­ing cuffed with thick man­a­cles (did they think a 19-year-old girl — em­bod­ied by the slim Florence De­lay — would over­power her guards and es­cape?). And it isn’t true that his Joan is al­most to­tally emo­tion­less — early in the film, af­ter her an­kles are shack­led to a mas­sive beam, she takes a brief mo­ment to cover her eyes and sob through grit­ted teeth. Bres­son like Dreyer draws upon the trial tran­scripts, but un­like Dreyer doesn’t prune his di­a­logue to fo­cus on her vi­sions and on her wear­ing men’s clothes — Joan here talks openly of a Fairy’s Tree and man­drake roots, and of her mil­i­tary ad­ven­tures. Look­ing at De­lay’s face you can imag­ine — de­spite the slight­ness of her fig­ure — that she’s ca­pa­ble of wear­ing ar­mor and com­mand­ing men. The dif­fer­ence be­tween De­lay’s face and Fal­conetti’s in Dreyer’s film says nearly ev­ery­thing about the dif­fer­ence be­tween the di­rec­tors’ ap­proach; that the girls wear a sim­i­lar hair­cut only em­pha­sizes the dif­fer­ence. Fal­conetti is all eyes, her oval face and plump cheeks soft­en­ing the stark star­ing near-mad­ness found in them (you can pic­ture her star­ing straight into the sun over­head, the harsh rays burn­ing away her reti­nas). De­lay’s eyes are down­cast al­most as of­ten as they are level, the im­pres­sion given not so much of a girl de­mure as of a girl sullen. A re­bel­lious daugh­ter dragged be­fore her stern father, if you like, forced to ac­count for her dis­obe­di­ent ac­tions. The image of a girl de­fi­ant be­fore male au­thor­ity does res­onate. The trial turns into a ver­bal strug­gle, with the panel hurl­ing one ac­cu­sa­tion af­ter an­other and Joan re­ply­ing “Be­ware of judg­ing me” and “I won’t ac­cept your judg­ment.” Oc­ca­sion­ally Joan steals side­long glances at a nearby priest who seems to be giv­ing her non­ver­bal prompts — Who is he? Why is he help­ing her? The judges no­tice but don’t cen­sure the priest, or re­move him from the trial — Why? Bres­son doesn’t elab­o­rate. Bres­son’s style has al­ways been spare but this time you have to won­der if he has pushed spare­ness too far. He’s done adap­ta­tions of nov­els and mem­oirs — Ge­orges Ber­nanos, Tol­stoy, and (in­di­rectly) Dos­to­evsky. Ber­nanos’ ma­te­rial proved par­tic­u­larly fer­tile — Di­ary of a Coun­try Priest is a per­sonal fa­vorite. When he’s writ­ing orig­i­nal ma­te­rial he’s ar­guably even more cre­ative — his trans­po­si­tion of Dos­to­evsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment is, I think, au­da­ciously bril­liant, re­duc­ing the Rus­sian author’s mur­derer to a mere pick­pocket, yet still man­ag­ing to wring the full mea­sure of drama (and a star­tling eroti­cism) out of the felon’s story.

Video Re­view The Trial of Joan of Arc (Pro­ces de Jeanne d’Arc) Di­rected by Robert Bres­son

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