Joan of Arc’s aged mother, flanked by nuns, stares off camera to summarize the tale (and expound it as a pellucid dilation of La Religieuse). The material has already been explored by Dreyer, Bresson, Rossellini and Preminger, Jacques Rivette shoots it straight ahead and at eye-level -- still a farmgirl, Joan (Sandrine Bonnaire) gazes at the pearly green expanses through a rectangular opening in the compound’s stony wall, then shears off her mane and giggles as the locks of hair crackle in the bonfire. The Dauphin’s (André Marcon) test and the siege at Orleans are the events in Part One (Las Batailles), but the real spectacle lies in the waiting between mythical-historical peaks, where the heroine chastises a commander for cursing and birds chirp offscreen. Joan asks the enemy to surrender, the British write back: "You are a trollop and we command, lest we burn you, you return keeping cows." ("Short, but precise.") Cannon smoke turns the screen white for half a minute at the battle for the Fort des Tourelles, a brutal second of silence descends as an arrow sails into Joan's shoulder. (A sublime corporeality informs Bonnaire’s portrayal -- she cries with pain as pieces of armor are removed around the wound.) Rivette allows himself a near-documentary dash of pomp as the Dauphin’s coronation opens Part Two (Les Prisons). Forced into "rest," Joan can’t reclaim Paris and is held at the Luxembourg household before being turned over to the British. The skip from capture to abjuration (in a six-hour work!) is a bold stroke, the brilliantly anticlimactic intertitle-gag ("May 24, 1431, in Rouen, after four months of trial...") reappears in Kill Bill, another two-part vision of female divinity brought down to earth. ("It will take me a month to make the sword. I suggest you spend it practicing." Intertitle: "One month later...") The pyre consumes Saint and girl, Philippe le Bon (Philippe Morier-Genoud) voices Rivette’s verdict: "Without a doubt, it is not a chimera, she is a woman." Cinematography by William Lubtchansky. With Jean-Louis Richard, Patrick Le Mauff, Marcel Bozonnet, Florence Darel, Edith Scob, and Monique Mélinand.
--- Fernando F. Croce