Sometimes the first scene of a film is an indication of the disaster the remainder of the film will be. The first five minutes of this film consisted of a map with exposition of the current state of affairs in France(circa 1429), Joan, age 10, confessing, her sprinting estatically from the church following her absolution, a trio of people–presumably her parents and sister–laughing when Joan rushes into the home, exclaims, “It’s wonderful!” and rushing out again. It all made me wonder. Today if a child were to do such things, we might wonder about her state of mind. When are the voices in our head from god and when are they just madness? Where is the line between madness and devotion? Joan, as history tells us, learns the harsh requirements of faith in due time.
What follows is nearly ten minutes of semi-hallucinatory images. Joan finds a sword, hears voices, prays when wolves appear, runs with the wolves when they do not injure her, soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. Her village appears to be on fire. English soldiers on a chevauchée, a raid designed to weaken the enemy’s resolve and illustrate their weakness and inability to protect the populace by burning and pillaging the countryside.
The bulk of the remainder of the story follows that history gives us, so I shall move on. Milla Jovovich as Joan is best at either end of the spectrum–meek or crazed–but rarely between. Jovovich would “win” a Worst Actress Razzie award for her performance. John Malkovich is the best of the bunch as the duplicitous Charles de Valois, the Dauphin of France and later Charles VII King of France. There are many fine performances by Vincent Cassel, Faye Dunaway, Tcheky Karyo(better known to US audiences as Lafayette in The Patriot). The late appearance of Dustin Hoffman as what would seem to be a physical manifestation of Joan’s madness is unsettling. He questions Jean’s explanation of the motives for her actions and even comes to mock her. Is this her own conscience mocking her for the blood that has been spilled in her name? Is this a test of faith sent by god? IMDB lists Hoffman as “The Conscience.”
Luc Besson’s direction waffles between trippy experimental film techniques and traditional Hollywood invisible editing and descends into a muddy morass. In the end Joan is made to appear to be simply a young woman undergoing a psychotic break. The deeper questions of faith are here undercut and minimized. Besson wouldn’t direct another movie for 6 years after this 1999 turkey and none of the films he has directed have made any waves outside France.