Procès de Jeanne d'Arc (1962)

PROCES DE JEANNE D’ARC (aka: The Trial of Joan of Arc)

(director/writer: Robert Bresson; cinematographer: Léonce-Henri Burel; editor: Germaine Artus; music: Francis Seyrig; cast: Florence Carrez (Jeanne d’Arc), Jean-Claude Fourneau (Bishop Cauchon), Roger Honorat (Jean Beaupere), Marc Jacquier (Jean Lemaitre), Jean Gillibert (Jean de Chatillon), Michel Herubel (Frère Isambert de la Pierre); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Agnès Delahaie; Janus Films; 1962-France-in French with English subtitles)
“This austere and ritualistic version of the trial of Joan of Arc is considered the most accurate portrait of the trial on film, yet.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

In Robert Bresson’s third film he worked entirely with nonprofessional actors in order to get more honest portrayals, a practice he was to follow for the rest of his career which spanned 49 years but only accounted for 13 films. Even so, Bresson is considered the most influential director of France and one of the world’s most revered filmmakers. This austere and ritualistic version of the trial of Joan of Arc is considered the most accurate portrait of the trial on film, yet. It’s based on the minutes and eyewitness accounts of Joan of Arc’s trial. Bresson gives the viewer a voyeuristic look at the psychological and physical torture and humiliation that Joan underwent during the trial, showing how such sado-masochistic techniques were used to break her resolve and cause her to eventually recant her testimony. She will change her mind again when she decides it’s better to die than live the rest of her life in an English jail. In an interview, Bresson has said that Joan is someone he considers as the most amazing person in history.

The Trial of Joan of Arc is the story of the sincere 19-year-old peasant girl, Joan the Maid (Florence Carrez) from Domrémy, who believed she had visions from God that told her to recover her homeland from English domination late in the Hundred Years’ War. After leading her troops successfully in battle and restoring the monarchy to Charles VII, who received his coronation at Rheims, there were court intrigues that rendered her revolt against the government no longer possible and after her capture she was placed for four months in the chateau of Beaurevoir as a prisoner; Joan was transferred to the English and spent seven months in their military jail located in a castle at Rouen (the seat of the English occupation government) before put on trial in 1431. The politically motivated trial lasted from February 21st through the end of March. Joan is manacled and spied upon through peepholes, as she sits in a prison with taunting British guards. The film opens with a manacled Joan swearing on the Bible to tell the truth. The presiding judge is the hostile Bishop Cauchon (Jean-Claude Fourneau), considered to be an Anglophile (he owed his appointment to his partisanship with the English government, who financed the entire trial). The court is eager for a quick conviction on the accused heretic and witch to please the British authorities. Joan is cross-examined by the bishop about hearing the voice of God, which she says comes through the voices of St. Catherine and St. Margaret. There are a long list of charges over such things as she wore a mandrake around her neck and dressed as a man. Joan argued if she wore a dress the English guards would try and rape her, which indeed happened when she donned a dress.

Joan’s convicted of heresy, as the bogus trial is only about getting revenge–the transcripts show no proof of her guilt was ever established. Bresson wisely lets the drama speak for itself, adding no false dramatics or emotional outcries. It proves to be a richly moving experience, especially the last shot of Joan in her purity being burned at the stake. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival of 1962.