Joan of Arc’s childhood is given a treatment that only Dumont could dream up—a period musical backed by heavy metal/rock music that is as madly fervent as it is wearisome.
Dir. Bruno Dumont
2017 | France | Musical | 108 mins | 1.55:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be PG13
Cast: Lise Leplat Prudhomme, Jeanne Voisin, Aline Charles
Plot: In the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, 8-year-old Jeannette cannot bear to see the suffering caused by the English. A nun tries to reason with her, but Jeannette is ready to take up arms for the liberation of the Kingdom of France.
Awards: Official Selection – Directors’ Fortnight (Cannes)
International Sales: Luxbox
Subject Matter: Moderate – Faith, Freedom
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
Some of us who have seen Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), one of silent cinema’s great classics, would be familiar with the story of Joan of Arc.
But shift forward nearly ninety years later, we have in Bruno Dumont’s work a screen treatment as radical as any that only the iconoclastic director could dream up—a period musical set in the 15th century, with the characters singing and dancing to a playlist of heavy metal/rock music.
It’s astonishing to experience it, so madly fervent is Dumont’s sledgehammer-style approach that its picturesque visuals rendered in an almost European Zen-esque aesthetic seem too genteel to contain the dark sonic energy.
It gets wearisome fast, which is the main drawback of Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc; there are times when I really wanted to reach out for some earplugs.
“Be silent, my sister, you have blasphemed.”
Dumont’s focus here is on Joan of Arc before she became the heroine that most of us know. Most of France had already been occupied by the English in the Hundred Years’ War at that time; as the French suffer, Jeannette receives a potent dose of divine clarity.
Sparked by the divine, she begins a spiritual quest to bring her country back from oblivion. In a way, Dumont’s approach is perfect from an artistic standpoint—how else can you express the fervour of being transformed by God than to draw parallels with the vehemence of heavy metal and rock.
The songs were sung live on set, and dances were filmed in single takes, making it nearly impossible to sing in tune and dance in sync at the same time.
Ultimately, Dumont’s work is awkward, tonally jarring and hilariously absurd, yet also transcendental and unorthodox; it’s challenging to appreciate for sure but also difficult to dismiss it outright.