Friday, March 5, 2010
The Trial of Joan of Arc
Perhaps it is a mistake to watch Bresson's characteristically muted version of the tale immediately after Dreyer's. Florence Delay's Joan seems like an attractive and intelligent university student (which in fact she was). The film is a record of the rapid fire cross examination. It is pointless to compare it with the other film since they are different objects which should be seen for what they are. In some sense, the two films are complementary. (Bresson, incidentaly, is said to have "detested" the Dreyer film for it's "grotesque buffooneries".) Bresson's film has the power of less of everything--sound, score, expression. It's far from the write-off some people try to make of it.
The film is closely based on the transcripts. As the movie states, history has left an authentic portrait of the maid in the form of the trial records and witness statements of the burning.. It is for us to decipher. The film opens with a powerful portrayal of Joan's rehabilitation twenty five years after her execution, as her mother, draped in black, is led in to proclaim her daughter's innocence. We see only the black folds of a dress move diagonally towards the top left corner of the screen to the peeling of bells. Perhaps it is this triumphant and joyful note which distinguishes this film from Dreyer's essentially tragic viewpoint. What the two director's do share is a feeling for the sacred.
Bresson's Joan is a clear-headed, intelligent and articulate young woman for whom the voices of divine instruction and counsel are a matter of fact. She is a match for her interrogators and her repartee is without pause for reflection, never varying from the monotone which is Bresson's trademark.
The film has the austere beauty by which he is recognized (comparable to the serene objectivity of pure mathematics) and gives a starkly realistic picture of the historic events, under-embellished (we the audience must fill in the blanks) and truthful. It whets my appetite to know more about this personage who's life-experience plumbs unknown and unexplored depths of human experience.