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You have to hand it to Bruno Dumont, France’s dark prince of dour auteurism: He never makes the same film twice, even when he does, to all intents and purposes, make the same film twice. Two years ago, he offered his own singular contribution to cinema’s well-stocked canon of Joan of Arc dramas: As a rare take on the peasant-turned-saint’s formative years, “Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc” would have stood out even if Dumont hadn’t set it to a heavy-metal song score, perhaps to compensate for the story’s lack of steely battle armor. Memorably bizarre but mostly bludgeoning, it left few but the most dedicated Dumont diehards begging for more — but he was never going to leave the story half-told, even if a sequel would inevitably have to cover far more familiar turf.
Enter the starkly titked “Joan of Arc,” which puts away all manner of childish things — chief among them the head-banging rock music — to austerely see its heroine through the downturn of her military career, her extended trial for heresy and her fiery execution. Though it picks up where “Jeannette” left off, the new film doesn’t exactly play like part two of a bigscreen miniseries. Rather, “Joan of Arc” is its own separate, self-contained film, distinct in its starched storytelling rhythm, husk-dry comic sensibility and sort-of-musical scoring and staging.
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A good half-hour longer than its predecessor at 137 minutes, it certainly feels the the heftier and (even) more arduous work of the two: a slog, if you want it put in fewer words, which is not Dumont’s own inclination in a script thick with formal clerical rhetoric. Needless to say, a historical anti-musical that makes “Jeannette” look like “Moulin Rouge!” by comparison is going to win...
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