Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Joan of Arc (5 Stars)

This is the seventh film starring Leelee Sobieski, made in 1999 when she was still 15. It was originally broadcast on American television as a three-part mini-series, each part lasting 60 minutes. The budget was $20 million, an exceptionally high amount for a television production at that time. It was edited into a film for cinema release in other countries, but unfortunately material was excluded to reduce the running time to 140 minutes. In Germany it was edited into a two-part mini-series, each part lasting 90 minutes, without any cuts. That's the version I watched today, because as far as I know it's the only uncut version available on DVD. Even the supposedly uncut Dutch version only lasts 150 minutes. If anyone is interested in buying this film I strongly recommend the German version. The dialogue is in English throughout. The only problem is that on-screen text is in German, texts like "The Cathedral of Reims in the North of France". That should be easy to guess, even if you don't speak German. As for the what-happened-next texts at the end, typical for true stories, here is the translation:

As Joan prophesied: seven years after her death Burgundy allied itself with France and drove the English out of the country.

Charles ruled for 30 years.

Cauchon became the archbishop of the Diocese of Rouen.

Jean de Metz never married.

Isabelle finally managed to get the judgement against her daughter overturned.

500 years later Joan was declared a saint.

Witnesses of Joan's execution claimed that her heart wasn't damaged by the flames.

I hope that will help if you decide to buy the German DVD.

The film was nominated for 13 Primetime Emmy Awards, more than any other film in 1999, but strangely won only one award, for Peter O'Toole as the best supporting actor. I admit that this was the best performance of his career, exceeding even his best known role as Laurence of Arabia, but it was Leelee Sobieski who carried the film. If anyone had doubted that she was the world's best actress, seeing her as Joan of Arc proved it. How could a 15-year-old girl portray such a complex range of emotions? It was pure brilliance.

Joan of Arc, the real woman, fascinates me. Based on the evidence of her accomplishments I consider her to be the strongest woman who ever lived. Maybe I should say that she was the strongest girl, because she was executed at the age of 19. At the age of 16 she led the French into battle, winning a series of battles against the English (more battles than shown in the film). She did nothing for herself. Her only aim was to re-unite France under King Charles and drive the English out.

Before Joan's birth there were prophecies that a Maid of Lorraine would free the French. It's true, Joan was born in Lorraine, and when she became famous the French called her the Maid of Lorraine, but she refused to accept the title. She saw herself as a solitary servant of God. From the age of 10 onwards she received visions of St. Margaret, St. Catherine and St. Michael (the Archangel Michael). She saw them and heard their voices. She impressed representatives of the Catholic Church when she described Michael's appearance and it matched the description written in a secret document in the Vatican. Was that just a coincidence? I admit that I'm a sceptic, but it does seem remarkable that a 16-year-old girl would have knowledge of Catholic secrets that not even the priests were told.

Joan was a simple peasant girl. She never learnt how to read or write, so she had to dictate her letters to scribes. However, the records of her speeches show that she was outstandingly intelligent. The transcripts of her trial still exist, and they show that she fearlessly opposed her accusers and outwitted them with her answers to their questions. When she was burnt at the stake she showed no fear, staring silently at a cross as she burnt.

The reason for her execution is laughable by today's standards. Even though most of the trial concerned her visions, whether they were from God, from the Devil or invented by herself, that isn't why she was convicted. The clerics couldn't be sure that the visions didn't come from God, and they were afraid of God's punishment if they called them fake. Joan was executed because she wore men's clothing. Men were scared of her, especially the religious leaders. In the history of the world religion is a men only club, telling women what to do and what to wear. If anybody anywhere tells women what to wear, whether they're told to cover or uncover themselves, it's wrong.

Of course, I can't agree with Joan of Arc theologically. I despise the Roman Catholic church, but I have the utmost respect and admiration for a woman who was powerful enough to take a sword in her hand and do what the men around her were too weak to do.

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