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Robert Bresson, Procès de Jeanne d'Arc [The Trial of Joan of Arc] (France, 1962)

King's Building, Strand Campus, London

13 Dec
Bresson, Joan of Arc. image of a young girl upset
Image of a young girl
Part of Medieval Film Club

Following the male-dominated narratives of the 1950s, Robert Bresson (1901–1999) launched a decade devoted to young female protagonists with a film about a teenage girl of the fifteenth century who ‘esteemed private revelation above Church authority, claimed to have been sent by God to revive the spirit of France, managed to persuade hardened soldiers, cynical courtiers, and scholarly churchmen to make her general of the French forces, and made good her promise to lead the dauphin Charles to Reims, where he was crowned king’.


The film focusses only on the trial of Joan of Arc (c.1412–1431) and relies on the official minutes of the trial. The director stated that he tried, ‘without creating “theatre” or “masquerade”, to discover a non-historical truth by means of historical words’ (and he described Joan’s and her responses to the judges as ‘a true masterpiece’, ‘the work of a writer without ever touching a pen’). As usual with Bresson, only nonprofessional actors were used (Florence Delay [b.1941], who plays the title role credited as Florence Carrez, had never acted before, and neither had the French surrealist painter Jean-Claude Fourneau [1907–1981], who plays the Bishop, nor the doctors, lawyers, and lecturers who play the judges and clerics). There is no extravagant spectacle, emphasis on historical costumes, or using of pre-digested responses. Bresson displays his usual caution regarding the exploitation of emotion. Regarding ‘authenticity’, he once said in an interview that ‘period style is never believable’ (he does not show any crowd around the pyre, even though ‘it is there’ and ‘we sense it’, because ‘a clear view of a medieval crowd would cause a rupture in the film, or it would bring to mind theatre and its disguises’). His characters don’t have ‘local or historical colour’: he made the film so that Joan seems ‘as possible and realistic – or as impossible and unrealistic – now as she would have then’.


Part of the Medieval Film Club, for more information go to the website.

This screening is open to all and free to attend. No booking required.

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