Trial of Joan of Arc

Film Tonight's film class was partly filled with a showing of Robert Bresson's Trial of Joan of Arc (Procès de Jeanne d'Arc). It was another example of how I'm still learning about this medium I'm so fond of and in particular the range of storytelling techniques which have been employed. Considering the emotiveness of the subject and the story being told, the film employs a deceptively simple style, with few establishing shots, the majority taking place in midshots, with the brief bridging moments carried by hands and feet. It's also extra-ordinarily dialogue heavy, with it seems little room for fictionalisation we watch a woman condemned and executed for her personal beliefs.

Bresson it seems was far from an actor's director. He actively hired non-actors who he found easier to mold into a particular 'performance'; he disliked the idea of overt manipulation of the audience, wanting instead to offer the events and allowing us to make up our own minds. To this end there isn't really what you might calling, acting or a performance. He's apparently seen a silent version of the same story and disliked it so intensely with all the crying and falling to the ground and praying and gesturing that he went completely in the other direction. Even as the judge condemns Joan and she is in sight of her death neither shows a hint of hystrionics, both could be considered positively placid, although I think it's more a case of captured dignity. In this way it does allow the viewer to project their own emotion onto the events. It felt to me as Joan was offering nothing but contempt to the court and her situation and didn't see much point in making to much noise because there was an inevitability to how her life's end was going to proceed.

The film was made in 1962 and to a degree it's difficult to watch now without comparison to similar films and television. I was immediately reminded of Judgment at Nuremberg released a year before and similar based on transcripts of the trial, the main difference being that although that extrapolated history its was very much about actors and sported an exceedingly starry cast (for the time). The modern equivalent are the acted cases which appear on television from time to time and now in the theatre. Wierdly, the closest I can think of would be the Sky News coverage of the Hutton Enquiry, in which the day's movements in court, uncaptured by television were acting out within hours of them happening. Like the Bresson film that eskewed performance over content, although then it was probably due to time in production pressures over an artistic decision.
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