sooner is better than later

when i proposed joan of arc: the messenger for the FT Top 100 i had actually only seen the first half, and wouldn’t have wanted to expand much except to say how peerlessly* FAB this half is: OK now i’ve seen it all, soup to nuts, and i want to rave (more) unrestrainedly, since

*i. i really do mean peerlessly: i can’t think of another film JoA much resembles, in tone and style, given its much-less-unusual epic-fuel topic
ii. the whole film – but esp.the seige of orleans at the centre – drives faultlessly from gory slapstick to unsettling python parody to geniune revelatory grimness, and back, turning on a groat between modes => this is energised fun, to say the least, a replication in film form of something comics are perhaps better known for (of course besson is a known fan of metal hurlant)

ii. it dispenses with and i think demolishes a bunch of out-dated readings of the medieval: from the catholic church’s own (= whatever nostalgia-for-feudalism it had in mind when it canonised JoA in 1920); to the Pre-Raph idea, all pale-saint moralising and pastily sublimated sexuality (i think the ingrid bergman versh is fatally spoiled down by this); plus – love it tho i do – python antigrailism ==> the besson version so supercharges the shifts of tone (and the siege is so brilliantly choreographed and timed a set-piece) that it kinda outscales MP in all directions
iii. the main one being something python (primarily a genre comedy) barely attempts, which is to get convincingly into the logic of the time and show us (on OUR terms) why and how joan appeared, had the effect she did, and then failed: i don’t mean JoA is good realist history – though it seems true enough to the few facts we know, almost all from the transcript of her trial – i mean that, where so many of the assumptions of the time are so distant from us, it’s hard for us to get properly into the heads of any of the participants… other versions of the story SHOW us what happened, but they don’t dramatise the logic especially
iv. here we see only too clearly, as a kind of doomed love story, how the grizzled leaders of the french army, experienced, cautious, almost exhausted (joan died aged 19 in 1431, some 95 years into the 100 years war), might – to rid northern france of the occupying english – risk all to gamble on the teenage vim, utter idealistic conviction and sheer unspoiled GO of what was, after all, an uber-tomboy teen with NO experience of techniques of warfare: a peasant’s daughter, she couldn’t even read (though she was clearly very shrewd)… but somehow, like the girl-elvis of domremy, she coalesced contradictions into irresitable momentum, and turned sexual orthodoxies upside down, just by the way she moved (=rode) and sang (= spoke)
v. ie the film converts her historical charisma into classic modern-era popcult teen-appeal:basically: she becomes everyone’s focus for and icon of self-transformation, stripped of piety (her voice is often an uncontrolled and “unmanly” riot-grrrl tantrum-shriek), a condensed mess of impatient surface certainty and inner goth doubt, india-rubber physical invulnerability and tirelessness, and the untainted courage of no family ties and not knowing any better — the relationship between the soldiers, with their wary, exasperated amusement turning to excitement and back to wariness, and her headlong dauntlessness turning more and more to inner callow torment (as she actually begins to see and think about how incomrehensibly ghastly medieval war is, and how corrupt and unsaintly and self-interested medieval nation-building kingship is, as well as – most affecting of all really – the gap her voices put between her and EVERYONE ELSE (kings, peasants, soldiers, statesmen, bishops): one of her voice is dustin hoffman, and he’s more horrible to her than not, constantly testing and twisting her pronouncements, asking her how can she be right when ALL THIS is what resulted…)
vi. finally, the end goes somewhere quite unexpected – given that this is the age of melgibsonian self-laceration-as-self-love: after a trial in which the bishops are desperately trying to find a WAY OUT for her (this reading has some historical justification), and in which she holds her own w.winning teenage stubbornness (ditto: the trial transcript is full of replies from joan which amount to the 15th century equiv of “whatEVerrr!” and “BOORing!!”), we jump straight into mid-burning – joan screaming (something she’s already done a great deal of) – and then cut to a face and head so totally in flames we can’t see it, we just know that it must already be charred and skeletal: i wasn’t sure it worked till i thought about it afterwards… certainly it’s unnervingly sobering, given the film’s ability to be absolutely sceptical about the reality of joan’s visions even as it loivngly recreates them (yes yes SHE can certainly see them, but she is – QUITE PLAINLY – very very mad, albeit world-historically inspiring in her manic phase) (it’s nearly 600 years since her birth, she didn’t reach 20, she LOST BIGTIME in military and political terms, and yet who the hell doesn’t know who she is?)