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                                                                                          on the border between north and south.
                           THE CRITICS                                                    If they took that city, they could cross
                                                                                          the Loire and invade the rest of France.
                                                                                          That was the situation which Joan’s
                                                                                          voices eventually addressed. They told
                                                                                          this illiterate peasant girl, who had
                                                                                          never been more than a few miles from
                                                                                          her village, to go to Orléans, raise the
                                                                                          siege, and then take the Dauphin to
                                                                                          Rheims to be crowned King Charles VII
                                                                                          of France. In other words, they told her
                                                                                          to end the Hundred Years’ War.
                             A CRITIC AT LARGE                                                She did so. Or, by inspiriting the
                                                                                          French soldiers at Orléans, she provided
                                 6                                                        the turning point in the war. How Joan
                                                                                          managed to get to Charles, and persuade
                         BURNED AGAIN                                                     him to arm her, and then convince the
 The woman at the stake is worthy of another five hundred years of obsession.              Valois captains that she should join the
                                                                                          charge at Orléans is still something of a
                             BY JOAN ACOCELLA                                             mystery, but at that point the French
                                                                                          forces were so beaten down that they


J
     OAN OF   ARC movies, understand-       man finishes, he does up his fly and says       were almost willing to believe that a vir-
      ably, have always been low on         to his mates, “Your turn.” Thus begins        gin had been sent by God to deliver them.
      sex, but in the newest entry, “The    the career of Besson’s Joan of Arc. In        And once Orléans was saved, under her
    Messenger: The Story of Joan of         past ages, Joan has been seen as a mys-       banner, many of the French came to see
Arc,” by Luc Besson, the French action-     tic, a saint, a national hero. Now, in        her as an angel, an actual heavenly messen-
movie director, that omission is ad-        keeping with the times, she is a victim       ger. Meanwhile, the Anglo-Burgundians
dressed. Early in the film we have the       of post-traumatic stress disorder.            regarded her as a witch. (See Shake-
following scene: Little Joan, maybe ten                                                   speare’s “Henry VI, Part 1,” where she is
years old, comes out of church to find
that her village is on fire. We are in the
middle of the Hundred Years’ War, and
                                            J OAN,   as she testified at her trial, was
                                                thirteen when she was first visited
                                              by voices from Heaven. It was summer-
                                                                                          a witch.) She was a subject of interna-
                                                                                          tional debate, but not for long. Seven-
                                                                                          teen when she set out for Orléans, she
English soldiers are rampaging through      time, around noon, in her father’s garden.    was eighteen when the Burgundians fi-
Domrémy. Joan enters her house, and         At first, it seems, the voices just told her   nally captured her and sold her to the
there she finds her older sister Cather-     to be a good girl and go to church, but       English for ten thousand pounds. The
ine. (She has just told her confessor how   eventually their instructions became more     Church then put her through a four-
much she loves this sister.) Catherine      pointed. The Hundred Years’ War was a         month heresy trial—basically a fake
had been about to climb into a cup-         dynastic conflict over whether the Plan-       trial. (Her chief examiners were firmly
board to hide from the English, but         tagenets (English) or the Valois (French)     in league with the English, who de-
now she stuffs Joan in the cupboard         were the rightful rulers of France. The       manded her death.) She was nineteen
instead, closes the door, and stands        English invaded France, and by the            when she was taken out, barefoot, to the
in front of it. In come three English       fourteen-twenties they had divided the        marketplace in Rouen and burned alive.
goons. Two of them sit down to eat the      country in half. Most of the lands below          All that happened in the fifteenth


                                                                                                                                        LEFT TO RIGHT: KIPA; PHOTOFEST; COURTESY FACETS MULTIMEDIA
family’s dinner. The third—leering,         the Loire were held by the Valois, under      century, and it gave Joan a privileged
filthy, appalling—approaches Catherine,      Charles, the uncrowned, uncertain, un-        place in the high and low culture of Eu-
pins her against the cupboard (we get a     warlike Dauphin. The lands above the          rope ever after. For years following her
shot of her feet dangling above the         Loire were controlled by the English, in      death, people claimed that she was still
floor), and impales her on his sword,        alliance with the Burgundian dynasty.         alive, that someone else had been burned
which, now wet with her blood, pierces      Joan’s village was in the north, in Anglo-    in her place. (There were Joan sightings,
the cupboard as well, barely missing        Burgundian territory. There is no evidence    like Elvis sightings. There were also
Joan. He then loudly copulates with         that she had an older sister Catherine,       Joan impersonators.) Paintings, plays,
Catherine’s dead body—bang, bang,           let alone that she witnessed the murder       epic poems were devoted to her. But it
bang, against the cupboard—as Joan,         of such a sister, but she certainly saw       was not until the nineteenth century
together with the camera, watches his       her village suffer, as all of France suf-     that she really came into her own. As
contorted face through cracks in the        fered. (In the war’s hundred years, the       George Bernard Shaw pointed out in the
cupboard door. The two other soldiers,      country’s population was halved.) In          preface to his play “Saint Joan,” she was
put off their feed, also watch. When the    1428, the English laid siege to Orléans,      born before her time. She was, he said,
Milla Jovovich as Joan, photographed by Brigitte Lacombe. Bottom, left to right: Renée Falconetti in Carl Dreyer’s “Passion of
  Joan of Arc,” Geraldine Farrar in Cecil B. De Mille’s epic, and Sandrine Bonnaire in Jacques Rivette’s “Joan the Maid.”
100                                                                                        THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 15, 1999

one of the first Protestant martyrs: it       sensitive politically, had been carefully     they wish to or not; and if they will not
was her claim that she had a direct, un-     recorded by court notaries. Likewise the      obey, I shall have them all killed. I am sent
                                                                                           from God, the King of Heaven, to chase
mediated connection with God—and             proceedings of the so-called nullifica-        you all out of France.
that she, not the Church, would judge        tion trial, by which, after the testimony
the truth of her voices—that got her         of more than a hundred witnesses, the            She was the same way at the trial.
condemned as a heretic. Furthermore,         Church revoked the verdict against            Again and again, her judges tried to trip
in her insistence that race and national     her twenty-five years after her death.         her up, lead her into heretical state-
boundaries overrode dynastic inheri-         Most of these documents were sitting          ments. Again and again, she answered
tance, she was one of Europe’s first na-      in the Bibliothèque Nationale. Qui-           them boldly, commonsensically, even
tionalists. (By medieval standards, the      cherat called them up from the stacks,        wittily. As the transcripts prove, she did
English monarchy’s claim to France was       edited them, and published them in five        not embrace sainthood. Unlike Francis
arguably quite legitimate.)                  volumes (1841-49), whereupon a great          of Assisi, for example, she never en-
    But it wasn’t just nationalist senti-    change came over the Joan legend. Be-         gaged in soul-struck behavior—never
ment that endeared Joan to the nine-         fore, she had been a heroine, an icon.        ran naked or threw herself on thorn-
teenth century. Her story had everything     Now she became a nineteen-year-old            bushes. When the old Duke Charles II,
that century liked. First, medievalism,      girl. The trial testimony tells us a huge     fallen ill, summoned her and asked
and medieval spirituality: the voice of      amount about her: her childhood games,        whether he would recover, she told him
God, arriving to a child in her father’s     her love of fine clothes, how impressed        she had no idea and then gave him a
potato fields. Second, primitivism: the       she was by Charles’s court. (There were       lecture on his personal conduct. (He
fact that she was a child, and a peasant,    more than fifty torches in the room, she       had fathered five bastards.) Nor did she
and so, by nineteenth-century lights,        reported.) As a result of Quicherat’s         have any interest in becoming a martyr.
morally superior to the educated, the        work, we know more about this French          The most poignant thing about the trial
mature, the ordained. Third, sentimen-       farm girl than about any human be-            transcripts is how hard she tried to save
tality: if, as Poe said, there was nothing   ing before her time, including—as we          herself—how, facing, with no help (she
more poetical than the death of a beau-      find out in Régine Pernoud and Marie           had no lawyer), thirty-odd theologians
tiful woman, then, as Dickens and Har-       Véronique Clin’s book “Joan of Arc”—          and legal scholars maybe twice her age,
riet Beecher Stowe proved, the death of      Plato, Caesar, and Christ. The tran-          she fought, reasoned, and bargained—
a beautiful girl was even better.            scripts also show her to have been an         and how afraid she was of dying. At
    Joan was thus designed by God for        immensely appealing person. Some-             one point she tells the judges that her
nineteenth-century artists, and they         times, in reading the history books, one      heavenly guides have promised to save
heard the call. Verdi and Tchaikovsky        wonders how Joan got soldiers to follow       her, but that she doesn’t know whether
devoted operas to her; Gounod a music        her. She was, after all, a peasant, not to    they intend to do this on earth or in the
drama, in which Sarah Bernhardt later        mention a girl. Furthermore, she did          afterlife—a distinction that is important
starred. The century also saw more than      not allow her men to swear, to gamble,        to her:
eighty new plays about Joan, the most        or to have women. Worse, she forbade
influential being Schiller’s 1801 “Maid       pillage, which for many of her soldiers          St. Catherine told me that I would have
                                                                                           help; and I do not know if this will be deliv-
of Orleans,” fired with the revolutionary     was the chief source of pay. But when         erance from prison or deliverance when I
zeal of the period and, in the give-         you read the trial testimony you under-       face judgment. . . . My voices say, “Take
them-everything-they-want spirit of          stand why these men wanted her as             everything serenely, do not shrink from
                                                                                           your martyrdom; from that you will come
early Romanticism, adding a star-            their captain. You would have, too, she       finally to the kingdom of paradise.” And my
crossed love between Joan and an En-         was so wonderful—fiery, frank, and             voices say that simply and absolutely, with-
glish soldier. There were novels, too—       blithe. Here is an excerpt from a letter      out fail. I call this a martyrdom because of
both Dumas père and Dumas fils had a          she sent to the English king as she pre-      the pain and hardship that I suffer in my
                                                                                           imprisonment. I do not know if I will have
go at the story—and essays and books         pared to take off for Orléans:                to suffer worse.
by De Quincey, Lamartine, Jules Mi-             I am the commander of the armies, and
chelet, Anatole France. In his monu-         in whatever place I shall meet your French    She is thinking that maybe, by “martyr-
mental “History of France,” Michelet         allies, I shall make them leave it, whether   dom,” the voices just mean imprison-
wrote, “Let us remember always, O                                                          ment. This is the most painful moment
Frenchmen, that our Fatherland was                                                         in the trial.
born in the heart of a woman, from her                                                         Another thing that the transcripts
tenderness and her tears, from her blood                                                   revealed was that, like Galileo, Joan re-
which she shed for us.” She was the                                                        canted. Worn down by the long trial,
mother of her country, the George Wash-                                                    she finally signed a statement abjuring
ington of France.                                                                          her mission from God and agreeing
                                                                                           to change into women’s clothes. (She

T     HEman who burned Joan’s image
      into the modern mind, however,
was not one of those famous writers but
                                                                                           had worn short hair and men’s clothing
                                                                                           throughout her military career.) Then,
                                                                                           four days later, she withdrew her recan-
a scholar named Jules Quicherat. The                                                       tation. There are many competing expla-
proceedings of Joan’s heresy trial, so                                                     nations for her change of mind. I favor the
A CRITIC AT LARGE                            101

one put forth by the Joan scholar Ma-
rina Warner: “She found she could not
bear the nonsense that such a denial made
of her past.” Still, she does not seem to
have fully understood what was in store.
When, two days after her “relapse,” they
came to prepare her for burning, she
wept and tore her hair. She died ter-
rified, screaming to Jesus to help her.


F   OR   four centuries Joan was treated
      as a saint, but she was not a saint.
After Quicherat, the movement for
canonization began. In 1909, she was
beatified; in 1920, she was canonized.
And before and after, spurred by the
transcripts, the canonization hearings,
and wartime nationalism, there was an
explosion of Joan art. Mark Twain
wrote a book about her; Charles Péguy
a series of passionate Christian Socialist
poems. Arthur Honegger composed an
oratorio, “Joan of Arc at the Stake,”
with a text by Paul Claudel. More new
plays came out—seventeen in 1909, the
year of her beatification, then twenty-
nine more in the years between the two
world wars—including, if we add post-
Second World War offerings, dramas by
Maeterlinck, Anouilh, and Maxwell
Anderson, together with Shaw’s famous
play. Martha Graham made a Joan bal-
let. On Broadway in the forties and
fifties, according to an old Manhattanite
friend of mine, “You couldn’t get Joan
of Arc to shut up.”
    But in our century Joan’s primary
medium has been film. By the end of
the First World War she had already
been the subject of six movies, the
most important of which was Cecil B.
De Mille’s “Joan the Woman,” the first
entry in what would be that direc-
tor’s long catalogue of bloated, Bible-
quoting spectaculars. Geraldine Farrar,
the opera star, neither young nor thin,
who plays Joan flings her arms up to
Heaven a very great deal. But the ac-
tion scenes, in which De Mille is clearly
trying to steal the palm from D. W.
Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” were rev-
olutionary for their time. The movie
fairly pullulates with people running
around in Pied Piper outfits. In the bat-
tle scenes at Orléans, De Mille used
fourteen hundred men, and he worked
them hard, as he did Farrar. According
to Agnes de Mille, Cecil’s niece, Farrar
spent “whole days in a fosse up to her
waist in muddy water, a cowboy guard
102                                                                                        THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 15, 1999

                                                                                                 ness of the Cold War period, and
                                                                                                 nothing in it is smugger than its
                                                                                                 Joan, Ingrid Bergman. The role
                                                                                                 was an obvious choice for Berg-
                                                                                                 man. After “Casablanca,” “Gas-
                                                                                                 light,” and “The Bells of St. Mary’s”
                                                                                                 (in which she played a nun), she
                                                                                                 was already a saint to much of the
                                                                                                 American public. Furthermore,
                                                                                                 she had starred in the Maxwell
                                                                                                 Anderson play. As a child, she had
                                                                                                 idolized Joan—together with Jo
                                                                                                 March, another hair-cropper, Joan
                                                                                                 has long been an inspiration to
                                                                                                 serious-minded girls—and she
                                                                                                 seems to have felt she didn’t actu-
                                                                                                 ally have to portray this alter ego
                                                                                                 of hers: she could simply be her.
                                                                                                 “It wasn’t like acting at all,” she
                                                                                                 said. And indeed it isn’t like act-
                                                                                                 ing; she just stalks around in her
                                   “Is the rabbit cute?”                                         monobosom armor, looking holy.
                                                                                                 The film was savaged by the re-
                                        •          •                                             viewers, and its main effect was to
                                                                                                 set Bergman up for her fall when,
around her dressed in bobbed wigs and        shot outside the walls of Carcassonne;        the year after its première, she left her
fourteenth-century hats, fending off         the coronation scene at Rheims; the trial     husband and daughter for Roberto
broken spears, falling beams and masses      at Mont-Saint-Michel. And though              Rossellini and, the year after that, bore
of struggling extras.” For the closeups      Gastyne gives us angels flying in the          him an illegitimate child. Posited as a
at the stake, they doused Farrar in          sky—he likes God as much as France—           saint, she now seemed all the more a
flame-retardant fluid, stuffed ammonia-        his focus is on Joan the soldier, with        sinner. She was denounced on the floor
soaked cotton up her nostrils, sur-          peasants rising up across the land to fol-    of the United States Senate.
rounded her with oil-filled tanks, and        low her into battle. The film is clumsily
lit them.
    The movie was a milestone in the
history of cinematic grandiosity yoked
                                             made, but it has a rare poetry. When
                                             Joan, side-lit at her parents’ hearth, sits
                                             listening to neighbors harried by the
                                                                                           T   HOSE    are the “epic” Joan movies,
                                                                                                  but already by 1923 Shaw, in his
                                                                                           “Saint Joan,” had inaugurated another
to cinematic realism. It was also a sig-     war, and a little cat that she is holding     tradition of Joan-staging—the political
nificant episode in the history of the        crawls out of her arms and runs away,         analysis, the discussion of issues. Before
political uses of Joan. In the film her       we see, with perfect, breathing concrete-     Shaw, Joan’s judges were often por-
tale is enclosed in a frame-narrative fea-   ness, her childhood—actually, her life—       trayed as a pack of cruel, cynical func-
turing an English soldier who, stalled in    slipping away from her. Much of the           tionaries. Shaw made them honest men.
the trenches of France during the First      beauty of the film is owing to its Joan,       To quote his preface: “If Joan had not
World War, is inspired by Joan’s sacrifice    an unknown, big-nosed seventeen-year-         been burnt by normally innocent people
to go on a suicide mission, thus saving      old named Simone Genevois. In the             in the energy of their righteousness her
the day for his regiment. Released in        scene where they prepare her for her          death at their hands would have had no
1916, “Joan the Woman” was an un-            death she is simply amazing, wiping the       more significance than the Tokyo earth-
equivocal call for the United States to      sweat and tears off her face.                 quake, which burnt a great many maid-
join the fighting in Europe.                      The medieval scholar Kevin Harty          ens.” In his eyes, Joan’s story was a con-
    In the years that followed, with entre   believes that Victor Fleming’s 1948           flict not between good and evil but
deux guerres nationalism, the rise of Fas-   “Joan of Arc” was another political           between good and good—individual
cism, then the Second World War and          manifesto. In a crucial scene in that         good versus public good, as in “Anti-
the Cold War, Joan did further political     movie, Charles pusillanimously declines       gone.” It was not an exemplary tale,
duty onscreen. One movie that is almost      to take advantage of the victory at Or-       from which one could learn how to be
never shown is a 1928 silent, “La Mer-       léans and go after the rest of France.        virtuous, but a tragedy, from which one
veilleuse Vie de Jeanne d’Arc,” by           Likewise, as many Americans felt at the       could learn only what it meant to be
Marco de Gastyne, a now forgotten            time, the United States was foolishly re-     human.
Parisian filmmaker of the twenties and        fusing to capitalize on its Second World         After Shaw’s death, Otto Preminger
thirties. The text is almost hysterically    War victory and go after the Soviet           secured the rights to the play, and the
nationalist. The photography, too, glori-    Union. Whatever the specific politics of       resulting movie was one of the oddest
fies the patrie. The battle scenes were       the film, it has all the smug righteous-       things ever to come out of Hollywood.
A CRITIC AT LARGE                                                                        103

To start with, it was two movies: an En-     presumably suffer big. To aid in that
glish one, with people like John Giel-       process, he telescoped the action into
gud playing the politicians—Europe-          one day, from trial to burning. Most of
ans knew what necessity was—and an           the film is just the trial, a back-and-
American movie, with Americans, who          forth between the examiners, asking
presumably knew what personality was,        their questions—we see them in closeup:
supplying the stars. The second oddity       their nasty smiles, their sweaty bangs—
was the stars. For Charles, Preminger        and Joan, also in tight closeup, giving
chose Richard Widmark, who por-              her replies. Typically, Falconetti pauses
trayed the Dauphin as a species of neu-      for a long time before answering, and
rological patient (he twitches, he limps)    weeps, and rolls her eyes to Heaven.
and also, if I’m not mistaken, as the        There are a number of distasteful ac-
fifties’ notion of a homosexual (he snig-     counts of how Dreyer managed to ex-
gers, he pouts). The casting of Joan was     tract from Falconetti this tortured per-
made into a contest. Eighteen thousand       formance. Jean Hugo, who served as
applications were received (including        one of the film’s art directors, reported
one from the teen-age Barbra Strei-          that every morning, when Falconetti
sand). Preminger chose a seventeen-          arrived on the set, Dreyer managed to
year-old unknown, Jean Seberg, from          bawl her out for something or other.
Marshalltown, Iowa, to whom—in the           Once he had reduced her to weeping,
effort, he said, to keep her unspoiled—      he would turn on the cameras.
he gave no training and little direction.       The film scholar Robin Blaetz retells
Seberg played it pert and baby-talking.      this story in support of her claim that
You turn your eyes away.                     the history of Joan movies is largely a
    Preminger’s “Saint Joan” was pre-        chronicle of misogyny: “Joan of Arc’s
ceded by one of the most aggressive          chief attraction may lie in the chance to
publicity campaigns in Hollywood his-        pornographically depict the death of
tory. Once Seberg had been chosen, the       this potent female with chains, ropes,
press was invited to her every act of        and lascivious camera work.” Dreyer’s
preparation—the fitting of her armor,         film is regarded as one of the world’s
the cutting of her hair—and to the           great movies—“Falconetti’s Joan may be
shooting. Article after article came out,    the finest performance ever recorded on
drumming up excitement, and then,            film,” Pauline Kael has written—but I
when the movie was released, in 1957,        think Blaetz has a point. The handling
the critics walked in and trashed it, sin-   of Falconetti is finally oppressive; you
gling out Seberg’s performance for spe-      feel beaten up by it. (I should add that
cial contempt. Soon afterward, Prem-         a fresh print was recently discovered—
inger sold her contract to Columbia.         appropriately, in the broom closet of a
This early history does not go unmen-        Norwegian mental hospital. Dreyer’s
tioned in accounts of how, in 1979, at       original negative was destroyed by fire,
age forty, Seberg was found wrapped in       so he assembled a second version of the
a blanket and nothing else, “dead for        movie from outtakes. The second nega-
several days” (the Times obituary) from      tive was lost in another fire. Reportedly,
a barbiturate overdose, in the back of       what we’ve been watching all these
her Renault on a street in Paris.            years are damaged copies of that sec-
                                             ond version, full of fuzz and specks and

O    BVIOUSLY,    the major job for the
       Joan chroniclers, on stage or film,
was to decide what the story was, what
                                             blur that I, for one, took to be part of
                                             the movie’s pain. The original, now on
                                             video, from Home Vision, is clean as
was important about it. Shaw had made        a whistle.)
a bold choice: Joan’s life was about the        I’m not the only one who sagged
great world, about politics. Five years      under the weight of Dreyer’s Joan. So
later, the Danish film director Carl          did Robert Bresson, whose 1962 “Trial
Dreyer, in his “Passion of Joan of Arc,”     of Joan of Arc” is a sort of anti-Dreyer.
made the opposite choice: Joan’s life was    Bresson follows roughly the same cur-
about the inner world, about suffering.      tailed script—just the trial and the
For his star he hired Renée Falconetti, a    burning—but whereas Dreyer’s Joan,
former member of the Comédie Fran-           before replying to her judges’ questions,
çaise. A stage actress—“Joan” was the        paused so lengthily for those Murillo-
only film she ever made—she could             martyr closeups, Bresson’s Joan, Flo-
104                                                  THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 15, 1999

      rence Carrez, barely takes a breath be-        young, human—she cries when she’s
      fore answering. Then she lowers her            wounded—but there is a kind of magic
      eyes, lest we sully her with our pity. The     circle drawn around her. In my favorite
      trial is not a drama. It is a kind of cate-    scene, she asks her confessor to teach
      chism, something recited rather than           her to write her name. She has letters to
      enacted. Tellingly, the most poignant          send; she wants to sign them properly.
      shot in the movie is not of Carrez’s face      We see the two figures framed in light
      but of her little feet, rushing awkwardly,     at a window: the big, sweet, football-
      as if she were being prodded from be-          player-resembling monk and the skinny
      hind, along a muddy path from the              girl. She has all her dignity—she does
      prison to the pyre. Overhead, a flock of        not apologize for being illiterate. Still,
      pigeons takes off into a fathomless sky.       we feel her exposure, her weakness. (She
      Bresson is often described as a Jansenist;     is a peasant; they will burn her.) Slowly
      this film supports that view. In a way, it      the monk guides her hand. Laboriously
      is the holiest of all Joan movies—cold,        she forms the letters: JEHANNE. Rivette’s
      fast (sixty-five minutes), and humbling.        movie is realistic, without Dreyer’s cry
          Both Dreyer and Bresson may have           party; it is abstemious, without Bresson’s
      been responding to the role that Joan          coldness. Accordingly, it does better
      has occupied in French politics. Social-       than any of its predecessors in portray-
      ists have claimed her; Communists, too.        ing Joan’s tragic period, which began
      But for more than a hundred years, ever        long before her trial. After the corona-
      since France’s humiliating defeat in the       tion, Charles basically abandoned her
      Franco-Prussian War, it has been the           (he had got what he wanted), and she
      right, above all, that has pinned her to       was forced to go freelance. In the movie
      its banner. Sprung from the soil, scourge      we see her, with maybe forty men, be-
      of foreign invaders, Joan became a fig-         fore the sky-high walls of Paris. “Give
      urehead for that late-nineteenth-century       the city to the King of France!” she yells
      Volk-worship which led directly to Fas-        to the Anglo-Burgundians on the bat-
      cism: the Vichy government put her             tlements. “Fry in hell!” they yell back.
      on their posters. Today she is doing           A few minutes later in the film, she is
      similar duty for the National Front’s          captured.
      campaign against immigrant workers.                Now, five years after Rivette, we have
      Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the Na-          the Besson movie. Could it, too, have
      tional Front, calls her his “little sister.”   been a reaction to the right’s idea of
          Some of that history may be lurking        Joan? Maybe so. By giving her the re-
      behind Dreyer’s and Bresson’s discard-         venge motive (Catherine’s murder),
      ing of Joan’s military career—a radical        Besson strips her of her holy mission.
      step, for she was a soldier                                 At the end of the movie, after
      above all—and dealing only                                  a bit of recovered-memory
      with her last days. However                                 therapy with what seems to
      else the two films differ, both                              be her inner psychiatrist—
      refuse to give us the right’s                               an actual character, indeed
      Joan Triumphans; they give                                  Dustin Hoffman, who ap-
      us Joan the girl, in big trou-                              pears and disappears like Tin-
      ble. And I think that in this sense they       kerbell, saying things like “So the mem-
      served as sources for Jacques Rivette’s        ory’s returning?”—she admits that she
      1994 “Joan the Maid.” Probably because         fought for vengeance, and that God
      of its length—four hours, in the short-        didn’t necessarily call her. The film also
      est version—Rivette’s film has had              weeps a lot over the horrors of war, as
      very limited distribution in the United        the right is not wont to do. On the
      States, but Facets has just brought it out     other hand, Besson dishes out those
      on videotape. Go get it. It’s the best         horrors with a rare enthusiasm. We get
      Joan movie ever made. Rivette restores         a severed hand, a severed foot, a decap-
      the “epic”—the battles are back—while          itation. A dog dines at length on a dead
      at the same time keeping a tight fo-           man’s belly. And, to make it more vivid,
      cus on the girl. His Joan is Sandrine          all this has a curiously sexual tinge.
      Bonnaire, who brings to the movie              When blood flows down Joan’s face
      all the self-containment, not to speak         at Orléans, it doesn’t look like blood.
      of the cheekbones, that she showed             It’s pink and thick and shiny, as is the
      in Agnès Varda’s “Vagabond.” She is            Communion wine that, soon after
106                                                THE NEW YORKER, NOVEMBER 15, 1999

      Catherine’s murder, Joan pours down          the deconstructionists. (In a recent essay
      her face, meanwhile crying to Jesus, “I      Steven Weiskopf, of Indiana Univer-
      want to be one with you now!” What           sity, finds that Joan fits a “paradigm of
      Besson seems to be saying is that, as a      abyssal indeterminacy.”) Meanwhile, the
      result of Catherine’s misadventure, sex      devout have not deserted the field.
      got linked with violence in Joan’s mind.     Throughout the Christian world, Joan
      But maybe I’m giving him too much            is venerated in churches and schools—
      credit. Maybe those two things are just      on the Internet, too. Virginia Frohlick,
      linked in his mind, as in the minds of       founder of the Saint Joan of Arc Cen-
      most action-movie directors. His work        ter, in Albuquerque, has a Web site
      has an extra twist, though—something         where she tells us about her relation-
      about women blowing people away,             ship with Joan, her “very best friend.”
      and having nervous breakdowns in             On another Web site, you can see a pic-
      the process, because they don’t actually     ture of Joan’s banner, hear the hymn
      want to do these bad things. (See his        sung by the priests in her army, and,
      “La Femme Nikita.”) Joan was just            should you be one of those who think
      adapted to the scenario. The actress-        that Joan was a transvestite, a lesbian, a
      model Milla Jovovich, Besson’s ex-wife,      feminist, a Protestant, or a Wiccan, get
      plays Joan with bug-eyed frenzy. “She’s      a talking-to from the St. Joan of Arc
      nuts,” one of her comrades-at-arms           Anti-Defamation League. There’s a
      says. Amen.                                  Clash of Arms “war game” devoted to
         None of this, however, will do Joan’s     Joan; there’s a rock group named after
      reputation any harm. Her cult is big         her. Three more movies are reportedly
      enough to absorb it. There is now a          in the works. Madonna and Sinead
      whole discipline of “Johannic stud-          O’Connor have both said they’d like
      ies,” together with a subdiscipline of       to play the Maid. We haven’t yet seen
      “Johannic-reception studies”—the his-        the end of the Johannic reception or,
      tory of representations of her. The post-    I’ll bet, the worst of it, but some-
      modern folk are on her trail: the women’s-   how Joan always slips through the net,
      studies people, the queer-studies people,    small and wiry, brave and glad. o

				
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