Stars: Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Dustin Hoffman
This is a masterpiece of direction, storytelling and acting and it is my sincerest hope that Milla Jovovich as Joan and Luc Besson as the director and co-writer come away with Academy Awards in their respective categories for their bravura work on this film.
It re-tells the story of the deeply religious French peasant girl who began hearing voices and experiencing visions at eight years of age that she believed came from God and then later went on to vanquish her country’s British conquerors. She was burned at the stake for heresy in 1431 as reward for her efforts.
It is the story of her obsession with her visions, “signs from God”, that she take up the sword against France’s enemies. She convinces the Dauphin, Charles (John Malkovich) that her visions are true and demands that he allow her to lead an army against the British. Charles, with nothing to lose and only his crown and kingdom to gain, gives Joan, who’s about 17 at this time, everything she needs to complete her mission. She believes she is fighting in the name of heaven and her fierceness and bravery in battle command the respect and love of dubious French troops as well as the people of her land while she earns the hatred of the English who would do anything to see her dead.
The French are able to retake a sufficient number of regions and send the British packing which allows Charles to be crowned King. That done, he abandons Joan’s efforts to retake Paris and she fails miserably. He decides to work diplomatically to remove the rest of the foreign forces, but nothing will stop Joan from her battles. Charles allows Joan to be captured in Burgundy and sold to the British for her disposal. And it is the British, after a mock religious trial, who burn her for heresy.
The film also suggests that Joan’s remarkable feats had less to do with God’s commands than with her own pride and need for vengeance against the British who had burned her village and raped and killed her sister. When Joan is imprisoned, she again sees visions and hears voices, only this time we are lead to believe it is her conscience in the form of a rather unusual casting in Dustin Hoffman, as a robed figure who questions every vision she’s ever had, every voice she every heard and finally every action she’s ever taken. Was it God, Joan, he asks, or was it just you? These are extremely powerful scenes and brilliantly written.
I was so impressed with Milla Jovovich as Joan for her magnificent intensity that did not falter for one moment, whether she was whispering in the Dauphin’s ear her deepest secrets or calling her troops to battle. She was superbly cast. With her hair cut short and wearing her suit of armor, the strength of her face, as neither male nor female, shone forth. And yet, still there was the frightened little girl throughout it all.
Joan died a horrible death at just nineteen years of age. Whether she heard God’s voice or simply raged against her country’s foes, she did a remarkable thing. It took the Church 500 years to canonize her as a saint – the same Church responsible for her death. But that was back in the medieval ages when the Church knew how to straddle the fence between religion and politics most effectively.
The direction in this film was spectacular and I applaud Luc Besson for bringing us this terrific version.
Be prepared for lots of blood, gore and headless bodies, though. Medieval battles were not pretty.
Lotta says this is an experience not just a film!