The Silence of Joan: Disavow or die
by Fabien Lemercier
14/05/2011 - Taking on a historical figure such as Joan of Arc, a favourite among many directors including Dreyer, Bresson and Rossellini or more recently Kornel Mundruczo (Johanna [trailer] in 2005 Certain Regard) calls for talent and boldness, and Philippe Ramos lacks neither. After Capitain Achab [trailer] (Best Direction, Locarno 2007), here he brilliantly embraces the famous Maid of Orleans, the voices she heard, her doubts, her choices, and her death at the stake.
Unveiled yesterday at the 43rd Directors’ Fortnight (May 12-22 at the 64th Cannes Film Festival), The Silence of Joan [trailer] is a delicate, intimist and nonetheless powerful work, in which nuances, props and nature – a pot of honey, a candle, torches, swords, a chariot, a forest, a beach – are exploited perfectly to sculpt an atmosphere concentrated on a fateful and mystical destiny of Joan of Arc, flawlessly interpreted by Clémence Poésy, every inch of whose face the director explores with the camera.
Autumn 1430. Abandoned by terrestrial (the King of France) and heavenly powers, in particular, Joan of Arc is held captive in a tower, waiting to be sold to the English by John the Blind (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing). After miraculously surviving a suicide attempt (which her turnkeys believe was a botched escape), she is walled in silence and spied on by her guards through a peephole.
A faith healer and beekeeper (Thierry Frémont) – called in to look after her injuries so he can put her back in English hands again as soon as possible – tries to delay the exchange, but the stratagem fails, as Joan refuses. Joan is then brought to Rouen by English soldiers and their captain (Liam Cunningham).
On her journey there, the "witch to burn" regains hope as she observes a strange phenomenon (the sudden silence of the sea) and the return of her voices ("They told me that I had to live, to fight."). She has an exceptional mental force, which she will need in the deep obscurity of her dungeon as she awaits her trial (her life will be spared if she disavows), suffers humiliation from her warders and faces the choice of dying at the stake rather than giving up her religion.
Poetic and realist, The Silence of Joan is a splendid display of the art of that uses all the cinematographic resources (fades, still shots, light slow motions, inner voices, temporal ellipses) to overcome budgetary constraints. A true artist, Ramos especially excels in close-ups tracking the slightest variations of violent, very introverted images of Joan, but also in enchanting chiaroscuros, skies filmed as lots of windows opened to the beyond, bewitching forests and dark jails.
Skilfully sketching Joan of Arc’s trial, the film returns in its final scene with a preacher played by Mathieu Amalric, who is possessed by a fervour shared by the crowd around the stake. The same fervour has gripped Ramos and his leading actress to create an inspired work, making it just as good as any previous masterworks on the French hero.
(Translated from French)