Jacques Rivette, a founding father of the French New Wave, has turned his attention to one of the most fecund literary and cinematic properties of this millennium in his film ”Jeanne la Pucelle” (translated as ”Joan the Maiden”).
His retelling of the familiar story of Joan of Arc is at once a straightforward chronicle, an act of patriotism, scholarship and reverence and the tale of a prototypical feminist whose adoption of male attire and a taste for combat in the 15th century outraged a hostile clergy as much as her attestations of familiarity with heavenly voices and SS. Michael, Catherine and Margaret did.
As a film, ”Jeanne la Pucelle” is austere and handsome, propelled by an unadorned but magnetic performance by Sandrine Bonnaire as the doomed heroine and enhanced by music by Jordi Savall, the violist da gamba whose expertise in medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music contributed so much to the authenticity and excellence of ”Tous les Matins du Monde.”
”Jeanne la Pucelle” is being shown in two parts at the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street, in the East Village, during a retrospective devoted to Mr. Rivette, whose credits include ”Celine and Julie Go Boating,” ”Paris Belongs to Us” and ”La Belle Noiseuse.”
The first part, ”The Battles,” which carries the story from Joan’s efforts to gain an audience with the Dauphin to the battle that lifted the English siege at Orleans in 1429, opens today and is to be shown at 6:20 P.M. daily through Thursday. The second part, ”The Prisons,” which begins with the Dauphin’s coronation at Rheims and ends in 1431 with the captive Joan’s fiery death at the stake after she has been sold to the English, opens next Friday and is to be shown at 6:30 P.M. daily through Dec. 12.
Even at a total running time of four and a half hours, these chronicles, their events introduced by intertitles that state date and place, leave a sense of having been pared from their historical roots. The detailed underpinnings that might have made clear the politics of France during the Hundred Years War, which led to the coronation of the Dauphin as Charles VII with the help of Joan, are at best skeletal.
No hissing hive of cunning courtiers lends the guile of a Shakespearean plot to this account. Save for Andre Marcon as the spineless Dauphin and Stephane Boucher as La Hire, a warrior whose great girth, pronounced limp and foul tongue (soon tamed by Joan) make him a standout, the secondary characters make little impact.
Which leaves Ms. Bonnaire as the focus. And hers is an admirable performance. Mr. Rivette has spurned the lighting tricks and depictions of dewy-eyed near-daftness that are such cliches of films of religious fervor in favor of a blunt portrayal of a simple young woman impelled by her belief that she is destined to save France. Although her faith is profound, this Joan does not so much inspire those around her by the force of her religion as win them by her willingness, from beginning to end, to sacrifice her life for her country.