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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Original and spectacular, 17 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Joan Of Arc - The Messenger [DVD] [2000] (DVD)
This film has a rather original - and perhaps not always convincing - take on the character of Joan of Arc, played here by Milla Jovovich as being somewhat shrill, or even hysterical at times. One reviewer wondered whethe she was really a Saint inspired by God (but then why would God necessarily take the French's side?) or whether she was "plain bonkers". Luc Besson, often original - regardless of whether tou likeor not what he does (and a lot of people tend to not like it - seems to have gone for some mix of the two.

This tends to somewhat summarize LUc Besson, his style, and this film in particular. It is spectacular all the way, from the battle scenes - as gory and "realistic" as you might expect - to Jeanne's "voices", pictured as if in some kind of fantasy or even a horror film. You like it very much or you dislike it just as intensily, or, you like perhaps some of it - the battle scenes are rather good, although they may perhaps feel a bit "overdone" -(and "over gory" in particlar), but then this is about personal preferences and since none of us were actually there, it's rather difficult to objectively appreciate whether scene A or scene B is "realistic" or not.

Now, to what extent is this film historically accurate? Here also, reviewers have tended to go to extremes. In fact, the film is generally more accurate than the average film we are used to watching, whether Troy, Brave Heart, Gladiator, Robin Hood (both the older version with Kevin Costner and the one with Russell Crowe), Kingdom of Heaven. However, everything is definitly NOT historical. The Director has taken a number of liberties, as Directors always tend to do. For instance, the beginning of the film, where the farm of Joan of Arc's parents is attacked and her sister gets into trouble, to put it mildly, is one of these inventions. Is it a howler? Not necessarily, unless who require each and every of your films that take place in Antiquity or during the Middle Ages to be as historical accurate as possible, but in such a case, there are hardly any that you will really like. On the other hand, there are also a lot of cases where Luc Besson has stuck to the historical record as much as possible.

After the ways in which the "wicked English" were rather mistreated in both Brave Heart and the Patriot (Mel Gibson in both cases, I'm afraid), some reviewers have been wondering whether, yet again, the English were being somewhat portrayed and caricatured as "the baddies", and were somewhat annoyed at it. In particular, some may have wondered whether depicting the English as insulting Joan and treating her as if she was a witch while also behaving as what could be seens as a cowardly manner, was not tainted with some unpleasant undertones of rench nationalism. This is, of course, a film done by a French Director, something than could fuel such a suspicion until one remembers how superstitious people were in the 15th century and on both sides (and how superstitious most of them were well before and well after). A young and (supposedly) inexperienced maiden leading to war seasoned warriors was simply unheard of at the time. That she was successful and brought victory a couple of times at Orléans, where the six months old English siege was finally broken, and went on to win a convincing victory at Patay and to escort the Dauphin to be crowne in Reims with her army, could only be a tremendous boost to the flaging morale of the French, who were clearly losing the war before her arrival, and, on the contrary, make the English wonder if the she was not Heavenly inspired, since all her enterprises seemed to be successful.

Besides, for those who might still doubt and wonder whether the Director is being biased, it is possible to check through the sources. Jeanne, regardlss of whether she was "inspired" or not, clearly presented a HUGE problem for the English Kingdom of France and the Duke of Bedford in particular, simply because some, in both camps, could believe that she was inspired by God, and therefore successful. This is alo why some much effort was put in by the English, once she was captured by their Burgundian allies, into having her handig over to them. The English could not afford to have her ransomed by the French because she had become a symbol. Moreover, they needed to destroy this potent symbol, hence her trial for witchcraft and her execution in Rouen.

The most interesting question of all is, of course, whether she really was "inspired" or not. The French Dauphin (an excellent John Malkovitch) and, even more so, his stately and scheming mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon (an excellent Faye Dunaway) certainly chose to believe so, and it clearly suited their interests. The Catholic Church made her into a Saint, but only in 1920. The French have made her into a national hero´n and she is now one of the symbols of the Far Right nationalist party in France. Interestingly, some revisionist French historians - but not Luc Besson who did not take this kind of risk - have wondered about who she was exactly and whether she really was "divinely inspired" or not. The starting point here is that it is highly unlikely for this young teen-ager to have really been a little sheperd girl for at least three reasons. She knew how ro ride. She wore armour and seems to have also known how to fight. She also has no problems in making herself understood at Court once she arried at Bourges, at a time where country folk in France spoke a wide range of dialects and languages - as opposed to Court French.

From there, you can start imagining all sorts of conspiracy theories, one of them being that she might have been a bastard half-sister of the Dauphin soon to become Charles VII and that thewhole thing was set up by Yolande of Aragon who knew of her existence and might even have been in charge for her upbringing.

Finally, another strong point in this film is the cast of characters. Some have liked Mila's performance. Others have hated it while still others have excused her by saying she was just doing what she was told and that is why she sounds and often appears shrill and hysterical. Granted, she was not, at the time at least, the best or the most professional actor you could think of but she coul have done a lot worse. Other actors are probably much better in their roles, such as Vincent Cassel playing a yound Gilles the Rais or Tcheky Karyo in the role of Dunois, commander-in-chief of the Fenech army and the bastard son of the Duke of Orleans (and therefore the cousin of Charles, future Charles VII). The other actors playing the French captains are rather good also, in particular La Hire, historically known for always swearing and who, to avoid being told of by the young girl, did a huge effort not to swear when she was around, or Jean Poton de Xaintrailles, or the duke of Alenšon. These hard and seasoned captains all somehow deferred to Jeanne, however grudgindly, and this is also rather surprising and interesting coming from them. All had much more experience than her. Some were even royal kins. Most behaved more like mercenaries, or at least warlords, happy to kill, burn, loot and rape, but their all obeyed her commands, at least to a certain extent. In itself, this is yet another hint that there was something extremely unsual with Joan of Arc, whatever version you chose to believe.

So, at he end of this long review, and despite its limitations - I should have also mentioned the piece where Joan wrestles with her conscious played by Dustin Hoffman as being possibly the worst of the whole film - I believe this very entertaining and spectacular film, which is also more conventional that it may look and feel, is just about worth (a slightly generous) four stars.
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