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Critics reviews
The Trial of Joan of Arc
Robert Bresson France, 1962
Bresson’s film, featuring low-key mise en scène detailing the precise period in which the Maid of Orleans lived, stands up as one of the most particular and transcendent works of his oeuvre.
March 18, 2012
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…Bresson frequently returns to a peephole into Joan’s cell where the churchmen and soldiers leer at her. The audience only sees the eye of a man, in contrast to the man himself, and the woman held in his gaze. However, Joan knows the pleasure the judges take in their power, and she denies it in staring back. THE TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC is a great film due to Bresson’s simple, yet radical choice to use her words. A saint now speaks for herself and in turn reinterprets history.
January 20, 2012
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Deriving the script for this 1962 historical drama from the actual trial transcript and other contemporaneous documents, Robert Bresson depicts the moral and political power of language and sublimates it into matters of faith. His textual archeology reveals Joan’s poetic depth and intellectual self-assurance, and the young actress he cast as the heroine and martyr, Florence Delay, has the steely eloquence and dialectical self-possession of a modern-day Sorbonne pasionaria.
January 01, 2010
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Because the trajectory and outcome of Joan’s trial is well known, its only surprises emanate from the slightest cinematic adornments, as in a shot of doves perching on a canopy as Joan burns at the stake. Even the soundtrack, which Bresson typically uses for simple yet startling juxtapositions of off-screen sound and on-screen action, remains relatively unexploited… Yet I must qualify any criticisms: less-than-brilliant Bresson is still Bresson, with evocations powerful and mysterious.
December 17, 2009
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Delay, her limpid eyes frequently downcast, isn’t “unexpressive” but unsentimental; though austere, she is unwavering, resolute. In an interview with Pipolo, Delay… explains that she thought of Joan “as an intrepid individual with a mission to perform.” She gave her director what he wanted, but gives audiences more: a new way to access and appreciate history’s most remarkable adolescent visionary.
December 15, 2009
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The truth is that, as is the filmmaker’s wont, his picture wasn’t so much ahead of critical cycles as outside of them, suspended like the protagonist between sanctity and pride… The single limitation is that Bresson pushes monastic severity all the way to the wall — to surpass the final view of Joan going to the stake with a pooch for a witness would mean having to reinvent his own brand of cinema, which he went on to do, supremely, in Au Hasard Balthazar.
November 21, 2008
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In contrast to the highly emotive, polarized, and concentrated inquisition of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, Bresson’s filmic adaptation is emotionally muted, bureaucratic, and methodical… Inevitably, as the symbol of Jeanne’s physical captivity is visually transformed in the shot of her rushed footsteps as she is led to the stake, her corporeal station of oppression and human suffering is transfigured into an indelible image of purity, spiritual liberation, and eternity.
January 01, 2002
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In some way, The Trial of Joan of Arc is almost impossible to crack, and Bresson’s insistence on not dramatizing the action seems as curious as Gus Van Sant’s decision to stick religiously to the transcripts of the original Psycho. He proved it can be done, but why? One last observation before allowing this film to resume its place as one of the lesser works of a great artist. Clinical as much of the movie is, there is an undercurrent of weirdness in some of the nontrial scenes…
January 01, 1999
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The ne plus ultra of Bresson’s aesthetic, Bresson’s sparest and most inexorable film consists entirely of episodes taken from the official transcript of Joan of Arc’s trial, and concentrates on the physical humiliation of Joan.
January 01, 1998
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Though I don’t entirely approve of Bresson’s conception, I can’t fault the exactness of his execution. From the precredit track of Joan’s mother rendered as a black-robed shroud stalking the verdict of Joan’s executioners on the altar of history twenty-five years after the event to the penultimate moment in Joan’s punishment when her personal possessions are cast in the flames, we are in the grip of a masterly mise-en-scène linked to the deepest meanings imaginable.
February 18, 1965
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With Florence Carrez, Bresson has experimented with the limit of the unexpressive. There is no acting at all; she simply reads the lines. It could have worked. But it doesn’t—because she is the least luminous of all the presences Bresson has “used” in his later films. The thinness of Bresson’s last film is, partly, a failure of communicated intensity on the part of the actress who plays Jeanne, upon whom the film depends.
January 01, 1964
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Dreyer’s Joan seems a much more Bressonian creation than Bresson’s Joan herself. This is why the horrifying crackle of the flames may yield up some abstract intellectual or even spiritual message, but fails to burn, movingly and tragically, a flesh and blood human being and her truth. The cross at the end of Journal d’un Curé remains for me the more genuine symbol of that charred stake at which are burnt, one after another, those who have the courage to “hear the voices.”
January 01, 1962
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