One of the most acclaimed directors working in France today, Bruno Dumont doesn’t tend to repeat himself. In the last decade, he has gone from making a supernatural thriller set in the countryside (“Outside Satan”) to a classical biopic (“Camille Claudel 1915”) to a whimsical TV series about bumbling detectives (“Lil Quinquin”) and a surrealist comedy of manners (“Slack Bay”).
For his Cannes-premiering “Joan of Arc,” however, Dumont is returning to recent turf. The period drama follows 2017’s “Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc,” a deadpan portrait of the future martyr’s childhood that was set to heavy metal music. For “Joan of Arc,” Dumont follows his “Jeanette” star Lise Leplat Prudhomme into the famous 15th century saga as she leads the French army on a holy mission that leads to charges of heresy and, eventually, her death. (There is music in this one, too, though Dumont has cautioned against calling it a musical.)
Like “Jeanette,” the new movie draws on a revisionist approach to the Joan of Arc story from a play by Charles Péguy. But Dumont said he didn’t expect most audiences watching “Joan of Arc” to have experienced his first installment. “It’s a whole new story,” he said. “It’s an epic film, a gothic action film.”
For some viewers, that aesthetic is most familiar these days from the weekly dose of sword-and-sandals showdowns on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” which will air its finale during the first weekend of Cannes. Dumont said he was a “Game of Thrones” fan, but cautioned against any comparisons with his new film. “I watch it,” he said. “But this is more like the opposite. ‘Game of Thrones’ draws so heavily on the Middle Ages that today any historical evocation reminds us of it. With “Joan of Arc,” he said, “all the facts and characters are authentic. The marvelous thus first exists in reality and then inspires fiction.”
It also exists in the shadow of previous Joan of Arc adaptations, including Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic 1928 silent treatment and Robert Bresson’s “The Trial of Joan of Arc.”
He especially keen on the decision to cast 10-year-old Prudhomme in the lead role. “This is the first time that the main actor has been 10 years old, when she was 39, say, in a previous production,” Dumont said. “Joan of Arc in fact died at the age of 19. The freedom of interpretation is therefore infinite, just like the style, because what is at stake is timeless, and accuracy is no match for that.”
He added that he was drawn to the lasting appeal of the persona. “I’m very fond of this true story in which a simple shepherdess becomes a glorious heroine with a tragic death,” he said. “This gives it both a historical and mythical dimension. And makes it ideal for the cinema”
While France continues to wrestle with the future of cinema and fight through its differences with Netflix, Dumont is one of the few Cannes-certified auteurs who has embraced television — last year, he completed a second season of “Lil Quinquin” — even as he remains an active filmmaker. “There are already many films on the big screen that are not cinematic when television works have a greater cinematic dimension,” he said. “The movie theater is not a quality criterion. The problem is less a question of theaters or screens than a question of whether the direction is cinematic or not. Cinema is more likely to die from being an industry than from being an art.”
Watch IndieWire’s exclusive trailer for “Joan of Arc” below.