Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Trial of Joan of Arc Review

Normally I enter the experience of viewing a Robert Bresson film brimming with optimism, but the odds were stacked against The Trial of Joan of Arc before I even pressed play. By all accounts I was sitting down for a special, beautifully crafted film, which should come as no surprise considering the previous work I had seen by Bresson, yet I still had an impossible, comparable standard to reflect on throughout the movie. Fair or not, when the subject matter of one of the greatest cinematic achievements in history is revisited at a later date, it is going to get scrutinized under a much more powerful microscope. 

The Passion of Joan of Arc by Carl Theodor Dreyer tells the story of the trial and execution of Jeanne d'Arc without using a single word, and its haunting power is almost literally overwhelming. When it comes to my top five films of all time, it is typically difficult to find a work worthy of pushing their way into consideration yet the film by Dreyer had me questioning whether it was possible the single greatest movie ever made before it had even ended. So yeah, you can understand why a different approach at telling the story filmed decades later would be challenging to critique based on its own merits rather than constantly harping on its shortcomings in comparison.

Released in 1962, The Trial of Joan of Arc is undoubtedly an excellent film and had it been my first journey through this story I would likely be raving about it, but it simply does not have the power of the Dreyer effort. I could go through everything Bresson does right here and it would take forever to tackle all of the different aspects, yet a much more simple way to put it is this: in 1928 this story was told and it devastated me, with the last act viewed through wet, reddened eyes. Here, everything I appreciate about the craftsmanship of cinema was tickled and delighted, yet I felt no raw, stomach churning power, my soul not shaken in the slightest.

This review sounds unfortunately negative, which sucks because The Trial of Joan of Arc doesn't deserve it. It truly is a remarkable film. At the end of the day though, if I want to revisit this story again in the future (and I certainly will), I won't feel inclined to turn to the Bresson effort ever again.


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