The Messenger
directed by Luc Besson
(Columbia Tristar, 1999)

If you plan on seeing a good movie anytime soon, don't see this one. However, if you're into gross misrepresentation, Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is the one for you.

As the story goes, a teenage girl from the village of DomrŽmy in 1429 hears voices sent by God telling her to liberate France from the occupation of the English. She goes see the Dauphin, the crown prince of France, who gives her an army with which she takes back French territory, liberating OrlŽans and inspiring her fellow countrymen. She frees up the way to Rheims, and at its famous cathedral, the Dauphin is crowned Charles VII of France. However, due to the inactivity of the King and plotting within the English and French courts, Joan is taken captive by the Burgundians at CompiŹgne and sold to the English. While the English could not put her to death for defeating them, she could be tried and sentenced by the church as a heretic. Pierre Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais and a fairly unscrupulous man, presided over the trial where Joan was subsequently sentenced to death and burnt at the stake.

While I'd always figured that what was left of my Catholic sensiblities had been watered down through the years, this movie still managed to offend me in more ways than I thought possible. But, hey, the art direction wasn't bad.

With a French director, I figured that Joan of Arc's story told from a French perspective would be quite refreshing. However, the result of Luc Besson's directorial efforts left me reeling in shock at its utter disregard for an appealing representation. While Besson's take on the movie certainly challenges our preconceptions of the usual Bernard Shaw type of Joan, I'm not sure what he's trying to say, and whatever that was, I'm rather sure I didn't like it.

Of Joan herself, or rather the French Jeanne in this movie, she was portrayed by model/actress/singer Mila Jojovich in the typical Mila manner. Her Jeanne was a neurotic, pouty, constantly trembling, waif-like creature with a temper, highly reminiscent of a bunny going into convulsions. While this may have been well and good for The Fifth Element, it certainly doesn't work here. A simpering John Malkovich portrayed Charles VII, while Faye Dunaway was highly effective as the calculating and pragmatic Yolande D'Aragon, the Dauphin's mother-in-law.

An interesting, but rather irritating addition to the plot line was Dustin Hoffman in the role of "The Conscience." Appearing out of thin air at moments during Jeanne's captivity and trial to taunt, question and antagonize her in an ambiguous manner, it is impossible to tell whether he is meant to be of God or the devil. While it is clear that Besson means to question Jeanne's role as a saint or a misguided woman and unknowing tool of the devil, this is at best frustrating.

In regards to the more spiritually minded moments of this movie, there is very little said of Jeanne's voices, supposed to have been Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret. Christ is disappointingly and frighteningly portrayed throughout the movie as a spooky little boy, not unlike Eddie Munster, and a very scary looking adult. Frankly, the Son of God looked like a junkie with fish eyes. I couldn't believe it -- Jesus with fish eyes?!!

In historical terms, this movie had some blatant inconsistancies. As far as commonly accepted historical and biographical details go, the director took large liberties. Some went so far as to be almost comical, such as French soldiers, portrayed by actors with French accents and some with British accents.

Overall, this movie was an utter disappointment. Indeed, it is at times quite apalling and it was the first film I'd ever considered walking out on. This movie, with its violent, bloody battle scenes and one particular moment portraying a catalytic event (which historically never happened) in Jeanne's childhood earned itself an R/18a rating.

[ by Melinda Lau ]

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