Saturday, June 06, 2009

Carl Dreyer's 'The Passion of Joan of Arc' (1927) and Luc Besson's "The Messenger: Joan of Arc' (1999)

As you watch the carefully crafted scenes from Carl Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc", what you experience most is human suffering and helplessness, and how this very suffering provides the ultimate strength to endure the pain and despair. In Dreyer's film, the British soldiers are mere passive observers who carry out the final act of burning her at the stake as a heretic, but the real clash is between the prelates of the Catholic Church in France and Joan. She has her simple certitudes on her side and she cannot counter the learning of the powerful priests. She has her supporters among them but they are few and they are powerless. What one gathers from the French version is that they are willing to sacrifice her as a heretic though they apparently symptahise with her. The one image that haunts through the 87-minute film is the face of Joan as played by Maria Falconetti, gaunt, fatigued and the tears rolling down her cheeks. The suffering overwhelms her, but she has no other way of defending herself except to say what she experienced, that she heard divine voice to save France.
Compared to this classic depiction, Luc Besson's Joan as portrayed by Milla Jovovich is an energetic, even frenzied, inspired-woman of God, who fights with all the strength at her command and who has no patience with worldly calculations. As a matter of fact, Luc Besson's Joan almost appears like a Christian jihadi. What Besson tries to capture is the helpless irrationality of Joan in all her rustic simplicity, who only knows patriotism and piety. The English soldiers hate her as an enemy and do not hesitate to condemn as a witch because she is in the enemy lines.

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