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CANNES — Following Captain Ahab, his contemplative prequel to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, French filmmaker Philippe Ramos sets his sights on another icon of Western culture in The Silence of Joan (Jeanne Captive). But this rather ponderous take on Gaul’s saintly teenage rebel suffers from shoddy production values and tedious storytelling, while Clemence Poesy’s leading turn fails to bring the legend to light.
There are so many depictions of Joan of Arc onscreen that she has literally become a genre unto herself, with examples ranging from Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece to Robert Bresson’s minimalist procedural to Luc Besson’s gory disaster. Ramos, who not only wrote and directed, but shot the movie himself in underwhelming and often underlit HD, tries to differentiate his film from the pack by inventing a narrative about the period in which the maiden passed from the hands of the French to the British, after which she faced trial and ultimately, execution.
Things kick off with Joan (Poesy) flinging herself from the roof of a fortress where she’s being held prisoner by the sinister Jean de Luxembourg (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing). That in itself is a daring plot choice, but Ramos never really exploits it as the story quickly settles into a claustrophobic chamber piece where Joan slowly recovers through the help of a compassionate healer (Thierry Fremont), taking a vow of silence that’s only broken when she once again makes contact with God.
“Without my voices, I’m nothing,” Joan claims, but the same could be said of the film, which struggles to find an angle that’s captivating enough to sustain interest in a story that most viewers know by heart. After a troop of cartoonish Englishman take her into custody, Ramos shows how Joan’s mystical powers manifest themselves to a captain (Liam Cunningham) and then to a monk (Jean-Francois Stevenin), but such miracles are too little, too late to give the movie the spiritual epiphanies it aims for.
Stepping into the boots once worn by Falconetti, Ingrid Bergman and Jean Seberg is no easy task, but Poesy (127 Hours, the Harry Potter films) never really has a chance to showcase her talents. At best, she can wickedly stare down her captors, whisper a few words in voiceover, or have her graceful body be the object of both admiration and hate.
Although Ramos obtains a few pretty pictures from the various medieval chateaus where the film was shot, the often low-rent video look does not suit the material, while the overabundance of slow-motion effects could be mistaken for digital glitches.
Venue: Cannes Film Festival, Directors’ Fortnight
Sales: Films Distribution
Production companies: Sophie Dulac Productions, Echo Films
Cast: Clemence Poesy, Thierry Fremont, Liam Cunningham, Mathieu Amalric, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Jean-Francois Stevenin
Director, Screenwriter: Philippe Ramos
Producers: Sophie Dulac, Michel Zana
Director of photography: Philippe Ramos
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Pinsard
Editor: Philippe Ramos
No rating, 90 minutes
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