December 29, 2019

Marathon MAID
Starring Sandrine Bonnaire, André Marcon, Jean-Louis Richard, Olivier Cruveiller, Baptiste Roussillon. Directed by Jacques Rivette. (336 min)

Review by Fluffy the Fearless😸

My first experience with director Jacques Rivette was reviewing Cohen Media’s restoration of La Belle Noiseuse, a 4-hour film about a frustrated artist painting a nude. A daunting task, but it turned out to be surprisingly compelling (and not because of the nudity). Marathon movies are sort-of a trademark of Rivette’s and his next, Joan the Maid, is even longer. But even at five-and-half-hours – to say nothing of a complete lack of traditional action one typically associates with historical epics – this is an interesting film, though it does require some serious commitment by the viewer.

Originally released as two separate films – and presented on Blu-ray as such – this is another re-telling of Joan of Arc, dominated by an impressive, dedicated performance from Sandrine Bonnaire as the titular character.

JOAN THE MAID 1: THE BATTLES - The subtitle is a little misleading, with only one actual battle depicted on-screen. Even then, it’s a fleeting skirmish, and a rather clumsily-executed one at that. However, one also gets the impression that, with the armies' lumbering armor and unwieldy weapons, this is probably a pretty accurate depiction of reality. The film focuses primary on Jeanne d’Arc’s journey. Driven by her godly visions, she appeals to Charles, Dauphine of France (Andre Marcon), to lead a French revolt against the British so he can assume the throne as the rightful king. She faces a lot of opposition, of course, but also earns a loyal following along the way, particularly from those who choose fight alongside her.

Joan the Emo.
JOAN THE MAID 2: THE PRISONS - Part 2 gets off to a shaky start with the crowning of Charles as the new king, which isn’t recognized by the British still occupying the country. Running over 20 minutes, the ritual is depicted in excruciating detail, essentially bringing the narrative to a grinding halt. It’s the only time the film is truly boring and could have easily been trimmed to a few short minutes without impacting the story whatsoever. The remainder unfolds sort-of like the final act of Braveheart without the blood & body parts. Jeanne is captured, betrayed, imprisoned and...well, we know the rest. The trial is sort-of a kangaroo court, where her faith and womanhood are questioned, yet even with the prospect of a horrible death, Jeanne remains steadfast in her beliefs. Following the trial, her incarceration in a British prison is by-far the most emotionally harrowing part of the film.

Jeanne herself is not depicted as the deified historical figure we grew up reading about. She’s sometimes stubborn, confrontational and maybe even a little over-confident. While there are many moments when the viewer thinks her unshakable faith is simply the product of a delusional mind, she’s a remarkably complex character, sympathetically portrayed by Bonnaire, who’s in nearly every scene.

Considering Joan the Maid is almost like binge-watching an entire season of a Netflix series, it helps to know in-advance that Rivette’s prolonged narrative tendencies are here in abundance (and this isn’t even his longest film). The story is filled with so much exposition – often directed right at the audience by various characters – that it requires your constant attention. But as exhausting as that can be at times, it’s ultimately worth the effort. A unique and interesting presentation of a revered historical figure.


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