Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Trial of Joan of Arc

Written and directed by Robert Bresson, Proces de Jeanne d’Arc (The Trial of Joan of Arc) is the story of Joan of Arc’s trial that is based on many transcripts and notes about the events that would led to her death. The film is an examination into a woman being judged for her actions as she would face death. Starring Florence Delay and Jean-Claude Fourneau. Proces de Jeanne d’Arc is a mesmerizing film from Robert Bresson.

The film is essentially a dramatic re-interpretation of the trial of Joan of Arc (Florence Delay) as she is interrogated by many bishops and priests led by Bishop Cauchon (Jean-Claude Fourneau). In the course of the trial, Cauchon and his associates try to get Joan of Arc to do anything to abjure herself in any way or she faces death. Yet, she would often defy anything she had say as she doesn’t trust those who are judging her as even the ones who are at the trial believe that it’s a mockery since she has no one to defend her. With Joan of Arc even offered a way that would save her from burning at the stake where she does take an offer, she realizes that she would go against everything she had believed in which would lead to her death.

Robert Bresson’s screenplay doesn’t have a traditional structure since the story is based on notes and transcripts at the event where it is about this woman on trial for her actions where it becomes clear that she is going to die. Bresson doesn’t paint Joan of Arc as this woman who is considered iconic or something as he allows her to be human while the bishops who are judging her aren’t total villains. They would offer a chance to be spared an awful death but it’s the compromises that they offer her that would really impact the drama as she would realize that it would go against everything she stood for.

Bresson’s direction is sparse and intimate in the presentation that he creates as he is more concerned about what is going on in the trial. There’s not many camera movements throughout the film as Bresson is always having the camera on someone or something that is going on. Bresson’s framing is quite entrancing for the way he would show Joan in the trial as well as the way Cauchon is framed where it’s always from afar and shown from a diagonal position. Things get more tense inside Joan of Arc’s sell where the trial continues as it maintains that same position but also from the back where a few men are watching through a hole to see what is going on.

Bresson’s direction also maintains an air of suspense as it becomes clear that every compromise that Joan of Arc has been offered is raised as it’s quite evident on what is ahead. The dramatic stakes definitely intensify that leads the lone scene that is set outside of the castle which is the burning at the stake where it is the film’s climax. The way Bresson presents this climax is with a degree of startling imagery that revolves a lot around faith and how Joan of Arc presents herself to God. Overall, Bresson creates a truly captivating film on the final days of Joan of Arc.

Cinematographer Leonce-Henri Burel does excellent work with the black and white photography as it maintains a very straightforward look except for a few scenes in Joan of Arc‘s cell to display her state of mind as well as the evocative look in the film‘s climax. Editor Germaine Artus does terrific work with the editing to display methodical cuts for some of its dramas while using dissolves and fade-outs as transitions to help the story move at a brisk pace. Art director Pierre Charbonnier does brilliant work with the sparseness of the set pieces such as the trial room, the jail cell, and the public court where Joan of Arc is given one final chance to save herself.

Costume designer Lucilla Mussini does wonderful work with the costumes from the clothes that Joan of Arc wears to the uniforms of the bishops. Sound recorder Georges Girard does superb work with the sound to capture the tense atmosphere of the public trials with crowds speaking in the background to the more intimate setting at the jail cell. The film’s music by Francis Seyrig is amazing as it is mostly an eerie, cadence-drum driven score that only appears in the opening and closing moments of the film.

The casting largely consists of non-professional actors playing the roles of the bishops, priests, nurses, and guards. Yet, the standouts are its two principle leads that includes Jean-Claude Fourneau as the very judgmental Bishop Cauchon who leads the trial as he faces opposition from the few bishops who are at the trial. Then there’s Florence Delay as Joan of Arc as her performance is a major highlight for the restraint that she brings to the character as she rarely displays any kind of dramatic emotion as she maintains the sense of dignity that Joan of Arc carries.

Proces de Jeanne d’Arc is an exhilarating film from Robert Bresson that explores the trial of Joan of Arc. The film is truly an engaging film that doesn’t require lots of dramatic tropes or lots of back story. Instead, it’s a truly engrossing minimalist film that keeps things simple and is willing to examine how Joan of Arc maintained her defiance against an unfair justice system. In the end, Proces de Jeanne d’Arc is an incredibly rich film from Robert Bresson.

Robert Bresson Films: (Les affairs publique) - (Les Agnes du peche) - Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne - Diary of a Country Priest - A Man Escaped - Pickpocket - Au Hasard Balthazar - Mouchette - (A Gentle Woman) - (Four Nights of a Dreamer) - (Lancelot du Lac) - (The Devil Probably) - L’Argent

© thevoid99 2012

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