Joan of Arc is titled Jeanne in its French release, and for the first thirty seconds or so, I thought I had popped in a screener for Dumont’s 2017 (I-don’t-know-what-else-to-call-it-except-maybe-a-cult-classic) Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc.
It has the same sandy patch of land serving as a location, the same dry cleaned and pressed banners and blue nun’s robes that look so very, very, 15th century, and, of course, the same jarringly anachronistic soundtrack. Joan is a couple years older now, and she isn’t the one singing. Instead she stares broodingly into the camera as musical narration chronicles the defeat that she hasn’t yet had. Then there’s some drum beating and some dressage, and…some more teenaged scowling into the camera.
I know people — actual human beings — that loved Jeannette. It was #8 in the Arts and Faith Ecumenical Jury awards for 2018. Like many films that are more conceptual than plot-driven, I found it enchanting for about fifteen minutes and a slog thereafter. Then again, I have the same response to most Malick films, so that response says as much about me as it does about the film.
When I don’t understand or appreciate a film (or director) that is widely praised, I do feel some compunction to try to educate myself. Dumont’s interview in the press notes for Joan of Arc were great. I enjoyed his comments far more than the film. He speaks in poetic terms which I don’t necessarily understand much better but which I am at least more experienced in parsing than I am when dealing with non-narrative films:
I do not worry about anachronisms or historical truth. We are in a timeless world and the film is historically inaccurate. Everything is wrong, one might say. Because I only seek equivalences: Joan carries a timeless truth and I remain captivated by the power she can still deploy today.Bruno Dumont on Joan of Arc
I really dislike writing negative reviews these days. There is so little new content, it feels miserly to dash hopes that a new project will be exciting and fresh. But I take solace in the fact that Joan of Arc is hardly the sort of film anyone seeks out permission to like. If you wanted to see Dumont’s latest, you probably knew it already, and you absolutely shouldn’t let my bourgeois taste influence you.