The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

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The Messenger:
The Story of Joan of Arc
Messenger poster.jpg
French theatrical release poster
Directed byLuc Besson
Produced byPatrice Ledoux
Written byLuc Besson
Andrew Birkin
StarringMilla Jovovich
John Malkovich
Faye Dunaway
Dustin Hoffman
Music byÉric Serra
CinematographyThierry Arbogast
Edited bySylvie Landra
Production
company
Distributed byGaumont
Release dates
  • 18 October 1999 (1999-10-18) (premiere)
  • 27 October 1999 (1999-10-27) (France)
Running time158 minutes[1]
CountryFrance
LanguageEnglish
Budget$85 million[1]
Box office$66,976,317[1]
 
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The Messenger:
The Story of Joan of Arc
Messenger poster.jpg
French theatrical release poster
Directed byLuc Besson
Produced byPatrice Ledoux
Written byLuc Besson
Andrew Birkin
StarringMilla Jovovich
John Malkovich
Faye Dunaway
Dustin Hoffman
Music byÉric Serra
CinematographyThierry Arbogast
Edited bySylvie Landra
Production
company
Distributed byGaumont
Release dates
  • 18 October 1999 (1999-10-18) (premiere)
  • 27 October 1999 (1999-10-27) (France)
Running time158 minutes[1]
CountryFrance
LanguageEnglish
Budget$85 million[1]
Box office$66,976,317[1]

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (French: Jeanne d'Arc) is a 1999 French historical drama film directed by Luc Besson. The film stars Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway and Dustin Hoffman. The screenplay was written by Besson and Andrew Birkin, and the original music score was composed by Éric Serra.

The Messenger portrays the story of St. Joan of Arc, the French war heroine and religious martyr of the 15th century. The story begins with young Joan witnessing the atrocities of the English against her family, and portrays her having visions that inspire her to lead the French in battle against the occupying English forces. Her success in routing the English allows Charles VII to take the throne. Eventually Joan is tried and executed for heresy.

Besson's previous film, The Fifth Element, which also starred Jovovich, was a critical and financial success, and had a positive influence on both their careers. The Messenger was intended to follow up that success, and cement the status of Besson and Jovovich in film.[2] However, the film received mixed to negative reviews from critics, and performed poorly at the box office,[3] earning just under $67 million on an $85 million budget.

Plot[edit]

As a child, Joan has a violent and supernatural vision. She returns home to find her village burning. Her sister Catherine tries to protect her by hiding her from the attacking English forces, part of a longstanding rivalry with France. After an Englishman kills Catherine, Joan is taken in by distant relatives.

Several years later at Chinon, the Dauphin and soon to be King of France, Charles VII (John Malkovich), receives a message from the now adult Joan (Milla Jovovich), asking him to provide an army to lead into battle against the occupying English. After meeting him and Yolande of Aragon (Faye Dunaway) she describes her visions. Desperate, he believes her prophecy.

Clad in armour, Joan leads the French army to the besieged city of Orléans. She gives the English a chance to surrender, which they refuse. The armies' commanders, skeptical of Joan's leadership, initiate the next morning's battle to take over the stockade at St. Loup without her. By the time she arrives on the battlefield, the French soldiers are retreating. Joan ends the retreat and leads another charge, successfully capturing the fort. They proceed to the enemy stronghold called the "Tourelles". Joan gives the English another chance to surrender, but they refuse. Joan leads the French soldiers to attack the Tourelles, though the English defenders inflict heavy casualties, also wounding Joan. Nevertheless Joan leads a second attack the following day. As the English army regroups, the French army moves to face them across an open field. Joan rides alone toward the English and offers them a final chance to surrender and return to England. The English accept her offer and retreat.

Joan returns to Rheims to witness the coronation of Charles VII of France. Her military campaigns then continue to the walls of Paris, though she does not receive her requested reinforcements, and the siege is a failure. Joan tells King Charles VII to give her another army, but he refuses, saying he now prefers diplomacy over warfare. Believing she threatens his position, Charles conspires to get rid of Joan by allowing her to be captured by enemy forces. She is taken prisoner by the pro-English Burgundians at Compiègne, who sell her to the English.

Charged with the crime of heresy, based on her claim of visions and signs from God, she is tried in an ecclesiastical court proceeding, which is forced by the English occupation government. The English wish to quickly condemn and execute Joan, as English soldiers are afraid to fight while she remains alive. Bishop Cauchon expresses his fear of wrongfully executing someone who might have received visions from God. About to be burned for heresy, Joan is distraught that she will be executed without making a final confession. The Bishop tells her she must recant her visions before he can hear her confession. Joan signs the recantation. The relieved Bishop shows the paper to the English, saying that Joan can no longer be burned as a heretic. Whilst in her cell, Joan in confronted by an unnamed cloaked man (Dustin Hoffman), who is implied to be Joan's conscience. The man makes Joan question whether she was actually receiving messages from God.

The frustrated English devise another way to have Joan executed by the church. English soldiers go into Joan's cell room, rip her clothes and give her men's clothing to wear. They then state she conjured a spell to make the new clothing appear, suggesting that she is a witch who must be burned. Although suspecting the English are lying, the Bishop abandons Joan to her fate, and she is burned alive in the marketplace of Rouen.

Cast[edit]

Themes[edit]

Luc Besson stated that he was not interested in narrating the history of Joan of Arc, rather he wanted to pull a message out of history that is relevant for today. Besson states that in order to achieve this he stepped away from the factual narrative of the 15th century, instead trying to get behind the "exterior envelope" and into both the emotional effect and affect of Joan. In their book The Films of Luc Besson, Susan Hayward and Phil Bowrie interpret this as meaning Besson sought to follow Joan emotionally, revealing her doubts and demonstrating that one cannot return intact from the experience of war.[4]

In the book Studies in Medievalism published by D.S. Brewer, Joan's sanity was said to be a continuing theme throughout the film, beginning with the priest questioning her as a child and ending with her conversations with 'The Conscience' in the film's final scenes. Scholars view 'The Conscience' as providing a postmodern explanation of Joan's visions. At the time that Joan lived her voices and visions would not have been doubted. The filmmakers invented the conscience to satisfy an audience aware of mental illness.[5] Several historical inaccuracies invented in the film were said to reinforce the view that Joan was psychotic, such as Joan experiencing visions as a young child when the historical Joan asserted that these visions began at age 13. The film was also said to have "feminist undercurrents"; after witnessing the rape of her sister Joan's crusade is said to become "a fight against male domination and the abuse of women.".[6] Other Scholars believe the witnessing of her sister's murder and rape to be an alternate psychological motivation for Joan to want to fight the English than because God told her to.[7]

Another theme in the movie is the inability of the church to fulfill individual spiritual needs.[7] This is shown through many of Joan's encounters with the church where as a girl she is scolded for going to confession too often, denied communion and forced to sneak into the church to take it herself, and during her trial denied confession until her own 'Conscience' confesses her instead.[5]

Anti-intellectualism, a common theme in Hollywood, is present in 'The Messenger' as well. Joan admits to not knowing how to read or write and has not received any formal education, military or otherwise, but yet triumphs over those who have.[8] Joan possesses a quick wit which she uses against the unrelenting accusatory questions provided by her "intellectual superiors" during the trial. Joan also manages to triumph in battle where those with more experience and knowledge could not; made especially apparent by her use of a siege weapon backward to force open a gate.[7]

Production[edit]

Luc Besson was originally hired as executive producer for a film that was to be directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Bigelow had been developing ideas for a Joan of Arc film for about a decade. Her film was to be entitled Company of Angels, with Jay Cocks hired to write the script. The film was to be made with Besson's assistance and financial backing; in July 1996 contracts between Bigelow and Besson were exchanged, which gave Besson in addition to his personal fee, the right to be consulted on casting. According to Bigelow, eight weeks prior to filming Besson realised that his then wife, Milla Jovovich, was not going to be cast as Joan, and he subsequently withdrew his support from the film, and with it the support of his financial backers. Bigelow threatened legal action; the matter was settled out of court.[2] After Besson left he commenced production of his own Joan of Arc project, The Messenger, with Jovovich given the lead role; the production of Company of Angels fell apart shortly thereafter.[9] The Messenger was intended to follow up the success Besson and Jovovich achieved with their previous collaboration, The Fifth Element.[2]

Fliming took place in the Czech Republic. Shortly after filming commenced, a stuntman died in an accident on set.[2] Besson was said to have become completely uncommunicative after the incident, only appearing on set to shout orders at people.[10]

Soundtrack[edit]

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
Soundtrack album by Éric Serra
Released2 November 1999
GenreFilm score
LabelSony Music Entertainment
Éric Serra chronology
The Fifth Element
(1997)
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
(1999)
L'Art (délicat) de la séduction
(2001)

The soundtrack for the film was composed by Éric Serra, and was released as an album on Sony Music Entertainment. It was Serra's eighth collaboration with director Luc Besson, having composed albums for seven of Besson's previous films including La Femme Nikita and Léon: The Professional.[11] The album runs for about 64 minutes, and some form of music is playing during about 90 percent of the film.[12] Commentators noted the change in Serra's work, which traditionally focused heavily on synthesis. The Messenger, on the other hand, is a largely orchestral score as justified by the film's historical context,[13] though synthesised effects are still used in some tracks.[11][14] The book The Films of Luc Besson stated Serra's score completed his "evolution" from pop-score writer to orchestral film composer; Serra's previous score for The Fifth Element had also used orchestral elements.[15] The book gave a favourable review of the score, though criticised the music that is heard during Joan's death, describing it as an unimaginative paraphrasing of Carmina Burana.[14] Allmusic gave the album 3 out of 5 starts, stating it "combines orchestral, rock, and electronic elements for a sweeping, cinematic experience."[16] Dan Goldwasser from Soundtrack.net gave the soundtrack 4 out of 5, stating it was "very satisfying to listen to", though lamenting the absence on the soundtrack of a particular piece of music present during Joan's discussion with The Conscience.[11]

Historical Accuracy[edit]

1.The scene in which Joan witnesses her sister's murder and posthumous rape by English soldiers is entirely a fictional construction.[5] In fact, Joan and her family were able to escape their village by fleeing to Neufchatel before the enemy army attacked.[7] 2. Many lines during scenes of Joan's trial are taken verbatim from Joan's real trial transcript.[5] 3. Joan is shown receiving both wounds she was given in real life (arrow above the breast and then later arrow to the leg) and the movie includes some of the 15th century accounts associated with Joan such as being able to pick out Charles VII from among a group of his courtiers at Chinon.[5] 4. The examining of Joan's virginity was a real test Joan had to complete to prove her merit.[5] 5. Female military leaders at the time of Joan's life were "unusual but not unprecedented" since aristocratic ladies were sometimes given some form of command.[7] Even so, the fact that she was followed into battle speaks to the common belief that she stood for God's will. Soldiers still followed her despite the moral tone she set with her troops forbidding them from looting, gambling, and swearing which is shown throughout the movie.

Political Context[edit]

Although 'The Messenger' was released in 1999, two years prior to 9-11, critics comment on how it reflects "the modern crime of presuming to be God's warrior" -Haydock.[7] Joan, having claimed to be fighting for God's will, is in modern times being compared to the Islamic Jihad.

Release[edit]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed US $14,276,317 in the USA, plus $52,700,000 from the rest of the world for a combined gross of $66,976,317.[1]

Critical response[edit]

The Messenger received mixed to negative reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a score of 30% based on reviews from 73 critics, with the consensus: "The heavy-handed narrative collapses under its own weight."[17] At Metacritic the film holds a score of 54 based on 33 reviews, indicating "mixed or average" reception.[18]

Roger Ebert gave the film 2 out of 4 stars, stating "The movie is a mess: a gassy costume epic with nobody at the center." Ebert stated that Dustin Hoffman's portrayal of Joan's conscience was the best performance in the film, though the character's existence reflected Besson's inability to convey Joan's conscience to the audience without personifying it.[19] In a review entitled Vivid Action Can't Save Miscast 'Joan '​, Todd McCarthy praised the film's action scenes and technical aspects, including Thierry Arbogast's cinematography, though overall gave a negative review. He criticised the casting of Jovovich, stating the only thing she brought to the film was "her strikingly tall and skinny physicality, which is not exactly how one has been led to picture [Joan]".[20] Ron Wells from Film Threat, however, gave the film four out of five stars. Also praising the action scenes, Wells stated the film's main strength was its "adult ambiguities and relationships"; its decision not to portray Joan as a "super-hero", but rather to let the audience decide whether she was a prophet or merely bi-polar, concluding "This film, as most things that involve religion, is better understood if you learn not to take everything so literally."[21]

Accolades[edit]

The Messenger was nominated for eight awards at the 25th César Awards of which it won two; one for Costume Design and one for Best Sound.[22] The film also won two Prix Lumière awards for Best Director and Best Film.[23] It was nominated for 'Most Original' trailer at the 1999 Golden Trailer Awards,[24] Best Costume Design and Best Production Design at the 1999 Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards, and won the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing.[25]

Conversely, Milla Jovovich's performance was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress.[26]

YearEventAwardNomineeResult
1999Golden Raspberry AwardsWorst ActressMilla JovovichNominated
1999Golden Trailer AwardsMost OriginalImaginary ForcesNominated
1999Las Vegas Film Critics Society AwardsBest Costume DesignCatherine LeterrierNominated
Best Production DesignHugues TissandierNominated
2000César AwardBest Costume DesignCatherine LeterrierWon
Best SoundFrançois Groult, Bruno Tarriere, Vincent TulliWon
Best DirectorLuc BessonNominated
Best PhotographyThierry ArbogastNominated
Best EditingSylvie LandraNominated
Best MusicÉric SerraNominated
Best Production DesignHugues TissandierNominated
Best FilmThe Messenger: The Story of Joan of ArcNominated
2000Golden Reel AwardBest Sound Editing: Foreign FeatureSound production teamWon
2000Prix LumièreBest DirectorLuc BessonWon
Best FilmThe Messenger: The Story of Joan of ArcWon

Home media[edit]

The Messenger was released on DVD on 4 April 2000.[27] The DVD version presented the film in its original 2.35:1 format, and contained several minutes of footage that did not appear in the US theatrical version. It featured English subtitles, interactive menus, 'talent files', a 2-page production booklet, a 24 minute HBO First Look special entitled The Messenger: The Search for the Real Joan of Arc, the film's theatrical trailer as well as trailers for Run Lola Run, Léon: The Professional and Orlando. The DVD also containted Éric Serra's original score for the film, which was presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, as was the film itself. Whilst criticising the film itself, Heather Picker of DVD Talk gave a favourable review of the DVD release.[28]

The Blu-ray version was released on 2 December 2008.[27] It contained audio in English, French, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai, as well as subtitles in 10 languages. Glenn Erickson of DVD Talk also criticised the film, yet praised the Blu-ray release, rating it 4½ stars out of 5 for its video quality and 4 out of 5 for its audio, though only giving it 1½ stars for its extras, noting the lack of special features.[29] Blur-Ray.com also gave a favourable review of both the audio and visual quality, stating "I don't think that there is much here one could be dissatisfied with."[30] High-Def Digest, however, gave a more negative review. Whilst praising the audio quality, the lack of special features was criticised, as was the video quality, which was described as being "smothered" with edge enhancement. The reviewer concluded "Sony is practically begging people not to buy it."[31]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b c d Hayward, p. 161.
  3. ^ "Luc Besson". MSN. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  4. ^ Hayward, p. 165.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Aberth, John (10/2/2012). A Knight at the Movies. Taylor and Francis. pp. 257–298. ISBN 9781135257262.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. ^ Studies in Medievalism XII: Film and Fiction: Reviewing the Middle Ages. D.S. Brewer. 23 January 2003. pp. 40–46. ISBN 978-0-85991-772-8. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Haydock, Nickolas (Summer 2007). "Shooting the Messenger: Luc Besson at War with Joan of Arc". Exemplaria 19 (2): 243–269. 
  8. ^ Canitz, Christa (2004). Historians Will Say I am a Liar: The Ideology of False Truth Claims in Mel Gibson's 'Braveheart' and Luc Besson's 'The Messenger'. Studies in Medievalism XIII: Postmodern Medievalisms: Cambridge and Rochester. pp. 127–142. 
  9. ^ Jermyn, Deborah; Redmond, Sean (15 January 2003). The Cinema of Kathryn Bigelow: Hollywood Transgressor. Wallflower Press. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-903364-42-0. 
  10. ^ Hotlz, Michel (27 October 1999). "Les grands bleus. La coterie de Besson et ses méthodes sont vertement dénoncées. Jeanne d'Arc de Luc Besson avec Milla Jovovich, John Malkovich, Faye Dunaway, Desmond Harrington, Dustin Hoffman. 2 h 40.". Libération (in French). Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c Goldwasser, Dan (23 June 2001). "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". Soundtrack.net. Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  12. ^ Hayward, p. 47.
  13. ^ Hayward, p. 53.
  14. ^ a b Hayward, p. 70.
  15. ^ Hayward, p. 69.
  16. ^ "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". Allmusic. Retrieved June 27, 2013. 
  17. ^ "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  18. ^ "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". Metacritic. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (12 November 1999). "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  20. ^ McCarthy, Todd (31 October 1999). "Review: 'The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc – Vivid Action Can't Save Miscast 'Joan". Variety. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  21. ^ Wells, Ron (11 December 1999). "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". Film Threat. Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  22. ^ "25th cesar awards (french academy) (2000) - films from 1999". Filmaffinity. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Nos palmares precedent". Prix Lumière (in French). Retrieved 1 October 2014. 
  24. ^ "Winner and Nominees for the 1st Annual Golden Trailer Awards". Golden Trailer Awards. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  25. ^ "Jeanne d'Arc (1999)". The Encyclopaedia of Fantastic Film and Television. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  26. ^ "1999 Nominees Press Release". Golden Raspberry Awards. July 12, 2000. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  27. ^ a b "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999)". DVD Release Dates. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  28. ^ Picker, Heather (13 April 2000). "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". DVD Talk. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  29. ^ Erickson, Glenn (2 December 2008). "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  30. ^ "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc Blu-ray". Blu-Ray.com. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  31. ^ Zyber, Joshua. "The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc". High-Def Digest. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 

Bibliography

External links[edit]