Joan of Arc aka The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Joan of Arc</strong> aka <strong class="MovieTitle">The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc</strong> (1999)

(In French, On Cable TV, February 2019) If you want a stark illustration of what seventy-five years’ worth of innovation and social changes can do to a medium, have a look at 1928’s La passion de Jeanne d’Arc followed by 1999’s Joan of Arc. Both of them are (obviously) retelling of the life of Jeanne d’Arc coming from the French movie industry, both of them looking at the story from various angles … and with vastly different means. The 1927 film is silent, static, black-and-white, heavy on dialogue and focused almost entirely on her trial. The 1999 version, well, comes from Luc Besson with the very energetic directing that we’ve come to expect from him. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that this version is far less religious, with considerable doubt given to the traditional story and quite a bit of ambivalence regarding the role of gods and devils. The surprising cast not only reunites Besson with Milla Jovovich two years after Le cinquième élément, but also brings in actors such as John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman, Vincent Cassel and Tchéky Karyo. Still, it’s Besson who shines, with spectacular battle sequences and a very modern rhythm to a familiar story. The film, unlike other takes on the story, seldom turns Jeanne d’Arc into a nationalistic symbol—The French royalty and clergy are portrayed unsentimentally, with a cynical approach to the entire affair. Despite some directorial prowess, the structure of the film remains confounding: The multiple false starts at the beginning of the film are near-useless, the middle sequence outshines the rest thanks to its gory war set pieces while the third act undermines Jeanne d’Arc’s legend with a far more contemporary take on the idea of divine possession. The least one can say is that this Joan of Arc is certainly not a boring film … even if I’m not entirely sure it achieves its own objectives.

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