First thing to bear in mind is that it's the second part of a diptych dealing with the French heroine; the first one,released the precedent year,called 'Jeannette ,l'enfance de Jeanne" , partly a musical, told the early years in Domremy ,the heavenly voices and the beginning of the legend .
The most famous story of our history,told,and told and told and TOLD.And filmed and filmed and filmed and FILMED :from Dreyer to Besson ,via De Mille , Preminger,Fleming,Bresson,and so many others it's impossible to count them all .
In "destinées" (1953),Jean Delannoy ,a director hated by the NV ,had sketched a new approach : it was only a sketch (about 40 min) but for the first time,it did not show Jeanne's epic but her moments of doubt and fear ,after the king was about to negociate and did not want to carry on with the fight.
"Jeanne" begins just before the siege of Paris ,the first of the heroine's failures .From the very beginning,one knows what to expect : not the usual scenes ,nothing spectacular ;if you're looking for this ,you'd better move on.
So much for the prelims : "this will be a defining moment" they all say ,before coming to the Parisians' rescue : her brothers in arms ,the duke of Alençon and Gilles De Rais (he's told :"you are not a sorcerer yet" ,an ominous line ");then heavenly voices which seem to sum up the epic for Joan is tired of the war and admits that she longs for the gentle way of life when she was spinning the wool .Then a very long scene which depicts movements in the horsemen which eventually produces a hypnotic effect .
Probably influenced by Bernard Shaw and Jean Anouilh,Dumont puts the stress on the supporting characters :hence the long discussion between the judges before the trial ,priding themselves on their degrees and on their high competence ; the trial takes place ,oddly ,in the cathedral of Rouen , which makes Joan all the more small and frail since the actress looks hardly like a teenager .This may be the only moment the viewer finds something to cling to ,for some of the lines are historically true (notably Jeanne's state of grace).Then again a threnody is heard ,sung by singer Christophe who wrote the music and appears here as preacher Guillaume Evrard -sadly Christophe was to pass away recently ,a victim of the covid 19.
The artistic choice is brought to the fore one more time in the final scenes : the torturers talk about their instruments ,and there's a pathetic quarrel about the prisoner's chain ;likewise , the guards of the dungeon show no compassion ,no desire (she's a witch and people were superstitious),and are more interested in the bottles of wine one of their mates bring:their derisory words are not unlike these of the warden in Jean Anouilh 's " Antigone" : it's not their business.
Defying historical realism , Jeanne 's jail looks like a WW2 bunker ; the audience is even refused the stake (Anouilh's "influence again :in "l'alouette" ,he had the stake destroyed) : only a small smoke ascends towards the absolute . It's not a very accessible film :but it possesses a mesmerizing fascinating power .