Spiritual Visions

Bruno Dumont is the acclaimed French director behind such diverse and provocative films as Flanders, Camille Claudel 1915 and Slack Bay. His latest film Joan of Arc marks his second feature to deal with the iconic Maid of Orleans, after 2017’s offbeat musical Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc. Once more, Lise Leplat Prudhomme takes the title role.

ASFF: This is your second film about Joan of Arc. What brought you back?
BD: I really liked this first adventure with Joan of Arc, and I thought maybe I should carry on and go to the end of the story. First my interest wasn’t on the figure of Joan of Arc herself at all. I was interested in her childhood – how Jeannette becomes Joan. What was interesting for me was the process of the change. And the profane aspect was interesting to me, and that’s why I chose Charles Péguy [who wrote the source book, Le Mystère de la charité de Jeanne d’Arc]. He’s the only one who tackles this aspect of the character.

ASFF: Why did you choose your lead actress, Lise Leplat Prudhomme, for a second time? She is younger than Joan is in this part of the story…
BD: It was a coincidence. I first chose a girl who was the age of the character – an 18 year-old. And for some reason, she was very reluctant. She was giving us a hard time on the shoot. And strangely enough, I realised that I wasn’t very keen on shooting with her. There was something wrong that I wasn’t aware of. As soon as she started resisting, I should have, as a director, convinced her. But I realised myself that I didn’t want to. I told the production, ‘OK, let’s give up.’ We had a problem – we were about to start shooting and we didn’t have the actress. But it made me realise I wasn’t happy with the idea of doing it with her. And as we had the ‘little one’ – she was very enthusiastic and very willing – I said, ‘OK, let’s go with her.’ It wasn’t a revelation that I had all of a sudden.

ASFF: Was it hard to work with a child actress, due to limited hours you can work with her?
BD: Making a film is always hard, no matter if you work with a child or with a film star. It’s always hard. But I don’t mind hardship. I think hardship is part of the process and hardship is what makes you create. If it’s too easy then nothing would come out of it.

ASFF: What did this second telling of Joan’s story teach you?
BD: I realised that nowadays if you do another film on Joan of Arc, you have to have some novelty – you have to bring something new. And it was obvious that what was new here was this ‘disproportion’ when it came to the physical representation of the character.

ASFF: Was there one earlier depiction of Joan of Arc on film that stood out for you above all others?
The one I really like is Cecil B. DeMille’s one [1916’s Joan The Woman] because of the disproportion, but the other way around. The actress that he’s chosen is a fat 40 year-old theatre actress! And there are so many extras, it’s huge! I like the idea of the choices that he’s made and the means that he has – Hollywood means – which is the exact opposite of the means I had, but the idea is the same. This idea of disproportion. The actress is very touching, and she’s touching because of this strength of this choice – which is a bold choice. I was really comforted in the idea that you have to be bold. You mustn’t be scared or go on repeating what’s already been done, but to dare and to go elsewhere, and this comforted me in the boldness of my choices.

Joan of Arc is available to stream from 19 June. For more details, click here.

James Mottram