Joan of Arc

France 1999

Reviewed by Ginette Vincendeau


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Domrémy, France, 1420. Eight-year-old Joan's village is pillaged by rampaging English soldiers. Joan witnesses the brutal rape and murder of her sister. Ten years later, this trauma as well as divine inspiration (materialised by voices and apparitions) propel the deeply religious Joan to seek out the Dauphin Charles, the disinherited heir to the throne. Her voices tell her to rid France of the English and put Charles - confined to a court in Chinon by the Duke of Burgundy in alliance with the English - back on the throne. Partly thanks to the manoeuvres of Charles' mother-in-law Yolande of Aragon, Joan is assigned an army.

Her army defeats the English at Orléans and the Dauphin is crowned Charles VII at Reims cathedral in 1429. Joan wants to throw the English out of France but the king and his entourage withdraw their support. Joan's army is defeated at Paris and Compiègne. She is captured by the Burgundians who sell her to the English. In Rouen, she is tried by the Church for heresy. Under pressure she signs a confession but as she recants she is accused of witchcraft. She is burned at the stake in 1431.


Since the 1898 film L'Exécution de Jeanne d'Arc, which condensed in a few minutes her trial and burning, there have been innumerable films about Joan of Arc. Some are classics, such as Carl Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc (1927), Roberto Rossellini's Joan of Arc at the Stake (1954), Otto Preminger's Saint Joan (1957), Robert Bresson's The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) and Jacques Rivette's Jeanne La Pucelle (1994). In addition there are numerous historical accounts, novels, plays, operas and paintings about Joan, who has always been an object of fascination and controversy. Politically she has been claimed by both the left and the right, including Le Pen's National Front. She has been an equally ambiguous figure for the Church, who accused her of heresy and then canonised her in 1920.

On the evidence of Joan of Arc, Luc Besson is not interested in these debates. His Joan is neither a political catalyst nor a mystic. As we might expect from his track record, her story becomes a spectacle but, despite the 1,500 extras and 200 horses, a surprisingly dull one. Besson's Joan is an uneasy mix of cinéma du look and 'new heritage' film. La Reine Margot and Elizabeth are two examples of such new heritage movies, ones which introduced sex, gore and grunge into the hitherto refined genre. The opening sequence here encapsulates this clash: young Joan dances ecstatically, Sound of Music-style, through the fields just before filthy soldiers rape and murder her sister.

The battle scenes have their gory quota of ravaged bodies and beheadings as well as the odd crude joke. But they lack the streamlined brilliance of Besson's action pieces in, say, Nikita, Léon or The Fifth Element. His showy trademarks appear here and there: striking compositions with Joan's face in extreme close-up and her army in the background; the camera-as-arrow (recalling the camera-as-bullet in Nikita). The scene where Joan's virginity is verified is a classic in this respect, with its flashy changes of camera angle, exaggerated sound effects, asymmetrical compositions and polished lighting. Also, Joan of Arc is new heritage in its international cast. British actors play the English and the rest are an assemblage of the usual suspects: John Malkovich hams it up as the Dauphin; Pascal Greggory and Vincent Cassel, who appeared in La Reine Margot and Elizabeth respectively, play two of Joan's captains; Faye Dunaway's Yolande d'Aragon is a cover version of Virna Lisi in La Reine Margot (those scheming mothers-in-law!). None of the film's faults would matter if it had a strong Joan. Besson frames his star Milla Jovovich with stunning close-ups and poses her inspirationally on horseback. But if Jovovich is pretty enough to withstand the haircut, she lacks charisma. And where, for example, Renée Falconetti in Dreyer's film and Sandrine Bonnaire in Rivette's radiated intensity during the trial, Jovovich just seems neurotic and shrill.

Erasing her mystical dimension, Besson has turned Joan into a 15th-century Nikita, the Babe of Orléans, a dangerous phallic virgin who nevertheless cries because "underneath she is vulnerable." Nikita's massive gun is swapped for a sword, both weapons imbued with heavy-handed significance. Replacing the religious dilemmas of Joan (the earlier films' focus) with psychology is not in itself uninteresting and could have been developed further. The jury is still out on Joan of Arc's exact historical significance, but as a heroine - virgin, tomboy, religious fanatic, tragic victim of male authority - she is a potent myth. Besson's film neither sheds new light on her nor succeeds in entertaining much in the telling of her extraordinary story.


Luc Besson
Patrice Ledoux
Andrew Birkin
Luc Besson
Director of Photography
Thierry Arbogast
Sylvie Landra
Production Designer
Hugues Tissandier
Music/Music Conductor
Eric Serra
Production Companies
Columbia Pictures and Gaumont present
a Gaumont production
Executive Producer
Leeloo Productions
Executive Production
Czech Republic:
Okko Production
Executive Producers:
Marc Jenny
Oldrich Mach
Bernard Grenet
Production Co-ordinator
Véronique Zimmer
Production Managers
Patrick Millet
Thierry Guilmard
Czech Republic:
Michal Prikryl
Location Managers
Didier Hoarau
Marc Guidetti
Thierry Crepin
Bobane Veselinovic
Stephane Reus
Vladimir Houbart
Arnaud Le Roch
Yves Bogdan
Arnaud Putman
Mark Dykmeyer
Fabrice Champion
2nd Unit Directors
Gérard Krawczyk
Jean-Paul Meurisse
Pascal Chaumeil
Assistant Directors
Stephanie Gluck
Frederic Garson
Stephanie Moreno Carpio
2nd Unit:
Anne Gilles
Laurent Bregeat
Czech Republic:
Dusan Vodak
Script Supervisors
Aruna Villiers
2nd Unit:
Donatienne de Gorostarzu
Julie Vasconi
Lucinda Syson
Nathalie Cheron
Juliana Reis-Peronne
Nathalie Guillaume
Todd Thaler
2nd Unit Directors of Photography
Jean-Pierre Sauvaire
Gérard Sterin
Camera Operators
2nd Unit:
Bertrand Chatry
Jean-Paul Meurisse
Camera Helicopter Crew:
Dominique Gentil
Steadicam Operators
Michel Rodas
Pierre Morel
Digital Visual Effects
Visual Effects Director:
Visual Effects Supervisor:
Alain Carsoux
Visual Effects Production Manager:
Pascal Giroux
Matte Painting Directors:
Jean-Marie Vives
Stephanie Dargent
Veronique Zylberfain
3D Supervisor:
Nicolas Rey
Transfer/Digitalization Manager:
Karine Marchanou
Research/Development Manager:
Rip O'Neil
Visual Effects Shooting Supervisor:
Fifine Domer
Visual Effects Production:
Delphine Le Roch
Visual Effects Executive Producer:
Antoine Simkine
Special Effects
Georges Demétrau
Head Set:
Grégoire Delage
Alain Couty
Jean-Claude Dauphinot
Denis Duplex
Oliver Zeneski
Pascal Fauvelle
Modelmaker Supervisor
Gilles Guerber
Art Director
Czech Republic:
Alain Paroutaud
Set Decorators
Alain Pitrel
Robert Le Corre
Costume Designer
Catherine Leterrier
Costume Supervisors
Olivier Beriot
Thierry Delettre
Anne David
Patrick Lebreton
Karen Serreau
Marie Trimouille
Laurence Nicolas
Make-up Artists
Magali Ceyrat
Marianne Colette
Czech Republic:
Ivana Chlostova
Special Effects Make-up/
Hairstylist Supervisor
Kuno Schlegelmilch
Special Effects Make-up/
Co-ordinating Artist
Fabrice Herbert
Hair/Wig Stylists
Christine Leaustic
Ghislaine Tortereau
Fabienne Bressan
Nathalie Champigny
Synthetic Music Performer/Conductor
Eric Serra
Symphonic Music Performed by
The London Session Orchestra
The Metro Voices
Synthetic Music Orchestrations
Geoffrey Alexander
Music Recorders
Ulrich Schneider
Synthetic Music
Didier Lozahic
Music Mixer
Didier Lozahic
"My Heart Calling" by Eric Serra, Noa, performed by Noa
Sound Designer
Vincent Tulli
Sound Recording
Vincent Tulli
2nd Unit:
Yunus Acar
Re-recording Mixers
François Groult
Bruno Tarrière
Bruno Tarrière
François Groult
Digital Editing Supervisor
Michael E. Phillips
Jérôme Levy
Bruno Tarrière
François Groult
Historical Adviser
Olivier Bousy
Horse Stunts Supervisor
Mario Luraschi
Stunt Supervisor
Philippe Guégan
Stunt Co-ordinator
Czech Republic:
Jiri Kuba-Ipon
Terry English
Glenn English
Michael Johnson
Neil Pinnell
James Pardoe
Production Horse Co-ordinator
Czech Republic:
Marketa Hodousková
Camera Helicopter Crew Pilot
Roland Ory
Milla Jovovich
Joan of Arc
John Malkovich
Charles VII
Faye Dunaway
Yolande of Aragon
Dustin Hoffman
The Conscience
Pascal Greggory
The Duke of Alençon
Vincent Cassel
Gilles de Rais
Tchéky Karyo
Richard Ridings
La Hire
Desmond Harrington
Timothy West
Rab Affleck
Stéphane Algoud
look out
Edwin Apps
David Bailie
David Barber
English judges
Christian Barbier
Timothy Bateson
English judge
David Begg
nobleman, Rouen's castle
Christian Bergner
Andrew Birkin
Dominic Borrelli
English judge
John Boswall
old priest
Matthew Bowyer
the bludgeoned French soldier
Paul Brooke
Domrémy's priest
Bruce Byron
Joan's father
Charles Cork
Vaucoulers's priest
Patrice Cossoneau
Tony d' Amario
Compiègne's mayor
Daniel Daujon
church's peer, coronation
Tonio Descanvelle
Philippe Du Janerand
Sylviane Duparc
Mary of Anjou's lady's companion
Barbara Elbourn
the aunt
Christian Erickson
La Tremoille
Tara Flanagan
woman, Rouen's castle
Bruno Flender
Poitiers inquisitor
Serge Fournier
church's peer, coronation
David Gant
The Duke of Bedford
Sydney Golder
cell's guard
Jessica Goldman
Duchess of Bedford's lady's companion
Framboise Gommendy
Joan's mother
Robert Goodman
Jean-Pierre Gos
Joanne Greenwood
Bernard Grenet
Senlis bishop
Valerie Griffiths
the hag
Timothee Grimblat
The Conscience as a child
Richard Guillé
English guard, Rouen's castle
Thierry Guilmard
Jerome Hankins
nobleman, Rouen's castle
Jacques Herlin
Orleans priest
Len Hibberd
Didier Hoarau
Vera Jakob
woman at the cemetery
Michael Jenn
The Duke of Burgundy
Toby Jones
English judge
Gérard Krawczyk
church's peer, coronation
Richard Leaf
The Conscience, as a young man
Franck Lebreton
Joseph Malerba
Beaurevoir's guard
Dominique Marcas
Poitiers inquisitor
Eric Mariotto
young monk
René Marquant
Rouen priest
Carl McCrystal
Gina McKee
The Duchess of Beford
Phil McKee
Simon Meacock
the teeth soldier
John Merrick
Regnault de Chartres
Joseph O'Conor
Poitiers chief inquisitor
Quentin Ogier
Kevin O'Neill
scribe at process
Melanie Page
young girl in bath
Brian Pettifer
the executioner/
torturer at process
Philip Philmar
English judge
Enne Piat
monk at coronation
Irving Pomepui
Louis XI, aged 5 years
Brian Poyser
English judge
Olivier Rabourdin
Vincent Regan
René Remblier
Dijon's assistant
Joseph Rezwin
Poitiers inquisitor
Ralph Riach
English judge
Mark Richards
La Hire
Malcolm Rogers
Tara Römer
Julie-Anne Roth
young girl in bath
Olga Sekulic
Mary of Anjou
Joseph Sheridan
Eric Tonetto
Vincent Tulli
Orleans physician
Jane Valentine
Joan, aged 8 years
Jemima West
Tat Whalley
Peter Whitfield
English judge
Frédéric Witta
Poitiers inquisitor
Columbia TriStar Films (UK)
14,193 feet
157 minutes 42 seconds
In Colour
Anamorphic [Technovision]
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011