Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 10, 2018 5:30 am 
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Bruno Dumont does Péguy's Joan as a rock musical

Peter Debruge reviewed Dumont's new film, which is religious and musical, at Cannes for Variety. He said it's a "a bizarre treatment of Joan of Arc's early years" that "flies in the face" of conventions, both musical and religious. It's "a blasphemous assault on French history, religion, and the musical genre." Well, it's an oddball and stunningly original movie, like everything Dumont has done since his debut feature The Life of Jesus in 1997, and each time, as Dennis Lim said at Lincoln Center before the US premiere of this one, "redefining the language of cinema." But in its own slightly bizarre way, this is no different from the musical Les Miserables - only with electric modernistic heavy metal sound, headbanger head-swirling, and amateur acrobatics.

According to Dumont, Jeannette, which uses only local, non-professional actors from his region of origin in northeastern France, is a word-for-word performance of the first of a three-part drama (or mystery, or poem) by Charles Péguy, the first version of which is dated 1897, called The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc. See
French Wikipedia.) Staged in the pretty semi-coastal area where Dumont also filmed his recent Slack Bay and his previous comical L'l Quinquin, it has two Joans, pre-teen (Lise Leplat Prudhomme) and teen (Jeanne Voisin). The actors' singing is recorded live, a capella, as in the movie "Les Miz." The nun who appears to the young Joan is doubled, because Dumont found twins for the part, and could not leave one out. Serendipity plays a part in his work.

Dumont's ability to use naive, untrained actors to capture a feeling of authenticity and raw energy, as well as religious purity, has been seen before, notably inn his 2009 Hadewijch about a girl who enters a convent, and before that his first two films, L"humanité and The Life of Jesus. Something similar happens earlier in the cinematic tradition with Rossellini's Flowers of Saint Francis and Pasolini's Gospel According to Matthew. They didn't think of adding music, and could not have used a local rapper with frenetic hand and body movements to play Joan's uncle.

The Childhood of Joan of Arc/Jeannette, L'enfance de Jeanne d'Arc,105 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2017, showing at a dozen other international fess, including Transylvania, Moscow, Karlovy and Jerusalem, as well as Vienna, Portland and SxSW. It opened on French TV. AlloCiné gave it a mediocre 3.2 press rating but the perpetually hard to please Cahiers du Cinéma loved it and the hip Les Inrockuptibles was favorable. Screened for this review as part of the NY Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, March 2018. Dumont, appearing with an excellent translator for the Q&A and speaking in mellifluous French, was almost more entertaining than his film. He explained his attitude toward religion and his working method with an engaging and personal kind of clarity that reinforced the admiration I've felt for this amazing artist from the very beginning.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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