Cannes Movie Review: The Silence of Joan (2011)


Clemence Poesy in The Silence of Joan
Photo: Sophie Dulac Distribution

Standing in line for Philippe Ramos’ The Silence of Joan (Jeanne Captive) another critic wondered aloud, “Will this be more Carl Theodor Dreyer or Luc Besson?” It’s a question I would think anyone walking in was wondering considering The Passion of Joan of Arc and The Messenger are probably the two best known cinematic versions of The Maid of Orleans’ tale even though several other versions have been told in-between the 71 years that separate the silent classic from the rather over-bearing Milla Jovovich edition. However, no matter what you think of those two, you’ll even respect Besson’s overblown edition much more than you will this latest telling, because at least he tried.

Here, The Silence of Joan makes hardly an effort to deviate from the story’s path or offer up a unique way in presenting it. All we get is a straight-forward narrative that brings nothing new to the story. Why tell this story yet again if all you want to do is paint by numbers? If anything, this is an opportunity to experiment and even when Ramos briefly tries that it goes inexplicably wrong.

Starring Clemence Poesy (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, In Bruges) in the title role, the story follows Joan’s path from the moment she tried to escape by jumping out of a 70 foot high window from a tower in Vermandois where she was being held captive, to the moment she is burned at the stake. While The Messenger dedicated much of its story to her battles and Dreyer’s Passion spent a lot of time on her trial and captivity, this film in fact avoids all of that. Instead we watch as Joan is initially treated, then transported to England and ultimately offered up on the stake. Bim, bam, boom, done.

Her trial is covered by intertitles, the battles she waged are an afterthought and just when you think it may become more about her captors and Joan’s effect on them, that element of the story is equally unexplored. So, when one of them suddenly dies I really hope Ramos didn’t expect us to care, because I didn’t.

As Joan, Poesy doesn’t have a lot to do other than sit there. She’s never asked to offer up the emotion we got from Maria Falconetti or even Jovovich for that matter. Ramos is more interested in quiet reflection between Joan and the God that no longer seems to be speaking to her. We get silent prayers, heard only through voiceover and accompanied with visions that even include a widescreen shot of Poesy’s naked crotch. Yeah, this is one of those kind of art house films, where the nudity isn’t meant to be titular, but instead metaphorical as Joan seems to have opened her body to let her Lord and savior in, but for the longest time he isn’t speaking.

Beyond Poesy, the rest of the cast also drew my interest though the cast is squandered. The likes of Liam Cunningham (Centurion) as the English captain transporting her and even Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) in an entirely inexplicable last second addition to the story as a wandering and distraught preacher are all wasted. Very little of interest at all actually happens in this telling outside of a brief moment where we are meant to believe God has silenced the seas as he returns to Joan and again speaks to her. Great.

I was intrigued by the cast and the hope this would be a new and fascinating telling of an age-old story. Instead I got a film uninterested in trying something new. Perhaps Ramos thought most of us were unclear on the particulars of Joan’s story and believed we needed to be reminded. If that’s the case it was an unfortunate underestimation. This film stagnates and sits there, making it seem much longer than the 92 minutes it takes for it to finish.