Proving that he remains French cinema’s greatest and freest adventurer, writer-director Bruno Dumont created a faithful but strikingly contemporary adaptation of turn-of-the- century poet Charles Péguy’s two plays about the childhood of Joan of Arc, with music by death metal composer Igorr and modern-day children recorded singinglive on the dunes of the Pas-de-Calais. The result is mystifying and mystical, jaw-dropping and farcical, but never less than inspired: a film in which an eight-year-old girl does justice to the verse of one of the great French poets while twin nuns do a gestural dance surrounded by a flock of oblivious sheep. The story starts with the deeply Christian peasant girl Jeanette confronting religious doubt in the face of the English invasion of France, then leaps five years ahead to reveal the willful teenage Jeanne on the eve of her departure to help the dauphin break the siege of Orleans. For all its gleeful wackiness, Jeanette is a serious film about the idea of France, childhood, and religious faith, located at the unlikely intersection of realism and absolute movie fantasy. And in entrusting great works of literature to children, Dumont gives us a potent reminder that the classics belong to everybody.
Lise Leplat Prudhomme