It’s probably impossible to make a film about Joan of Arc without at least acknowledging the long shadow cast by Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. Luc Besson’s 1999 interpretation steers into that skid; like Dreyer’s film, significant chunks of Joan of Arc: The Messenger are filmed in close-up, but the lens of choice – wide-angle lens – typify Besson’s exaggerated, almost goofy approach to the material.
There are some striking images here – even at his worst, Besson’s a capable aesthete – whether its young Joan frolicking through multi-coloured fields of flowers or an adult Joan freezing in mid-air after she is pierced by an arrow. But it’s so relentlessly intense; Besson’s feverish mania is not, I would argue, suited to two-and-a-half hour religious-historical epics, and it becomes aggravating rather than invigorating.
I couldn’t help but appreciate the hammy work delivered by reputable actors like John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway and Vincent Cassell (not to mention a late, surprisingly serious appearance from Dustin Hoffman) … but Milla Jovovich’s work as the titular messenger is a captivatingly spectacular failure. Her flamboyant line readings – or line yellings – are simpatico with the film as a whole; admirably committed to its cause but utterly exhausting to watch.