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The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is a 1999 historical drama film directed by Luc Besson. The screenplay was written by Luc Besson and Andrew Birkin. The original music score was composed by Éric Serra.

The Messenger portrays the story of St. Joan of Arc, the famous French war heroine of the 15th century and religious martyr, played by Ukrainian-born Milla Jovovich. The story begins with young Joan witnessing the atrocities of the English against her family, following her through her visions, to her leadership in battle, through doubt (with Dustin Hoffman playing a character credited as "the Conscience"), and finally to her trial and execution.

Coincidentally, another film based upon the life of Joan of Arc, starring Leelee Sobieski, was made for television at the same time as Besson's film.

Plot summary

The story starts with Joan as a little girl (played by Jane Valentine), confessing her sins in church (for the second or third time that day). The priest wonders why Joan is so deeply religious and asks if everything is alright at home, with her family and friends. Nothing seems to be wrong with her life, and he just regards her as a girl who is very religious. She skips out of the church, glad to be forgiven by God and Jesus and as she strays from her village she has a somewhat violent and supernatural vision. When she returns to her village, the invading English soldiers have already begun burning it. Joan watches as her sister is murdered and raped, in that order. After surviving the attack, Joan goes to live with her distant relatives. She confesses to the priest that she wants to forgive her enemies (as the Bible teaches) but she cannot.

At Chinon (where we see a little boy sparring with a palace guard), the Dauphin and soon to be King of France Charles VII receives a message from Joan, requesting an army to lead into battle. Charles VII thinks he should let her come, but his advisors say she may be an assassin. The king's mother-in-law, Yolande of Aragon says Joan should be seen because the people believe she could save France from the English.

Joan arrives at Chinon, and right away Charles VII is warned again that she could be an assassin. Charles VII comes up with the plan to let someone else pretend to be him; that way if she is an assassin she will kill the wrong man, and if she is truly sent by God she will know who the real future king is. Joan stands before the throne, but tells the man sitting there, the young Jean d'Aulon, that he is a good man but is not Charles VII. The court chamberlain Trémoille, who had just earlier announced Jean d'Aulon falsely as Charles VII, tells her that the real Dauphin is among the crowd and to go spot him out herself.

Walking through the crowded room, she miraculously finds Charles VII in the corner and starts staring at him while breathing heavily. Charles' three senior knights (the Duke of Alençon, Gilles de Rais and La Hire) prevent Joan from getting any closer to the Dauphin by placing their daggers near her throat. Charles tells these knights to stand down, and Joan tells him "I have a message from the King of Heaven for you, and you only." In a private room, Joan tells him about her visions, that she is to lead the French Army to victory against the English, and only then will he become the King of France. Charles tells Joan to rest and directs Aulon to be her attendant.

The royal court is still reluctant to give Joan an army to command, and want proof that she has been sent by God. They decide to examine whether or not she's a virgin, as she claims to be. They come to the conclusion that there is no sign of corruption and that she is intact. The testing continues, as they question whether her knowledge in warfare is good enough to command an army. They ask her if she can prove she was sent by God, but she claims that she did not come to perform tricks, and that the fact that she had traveled through enemy territory in her journey to Chinon without being killed should be proof enough.

Joan, clad in armour and equipped with a long white banner, leads the French army to Orléans which was under the military command of Jean de Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans, and being besieged by the English. Joan arrives with her attendant Aulon and the senior knights the Duke of Alençon, Gilles de Rais and La Hire. When asked by Dunois on how to fight the English, she suggests an attack plan from the Boulevard des Tourelles. Dunois and the other senior knights say her plan is reckless and makes no sense, and Dunois even admits that they are not used to taking orders from a girl. An infuriated Joan slaps a chuckling La Hire, and, with the help of Aulon, cuts her hair short like a man's. She has a letter to the English transcribed, politely requesting their surrender. The English captain shouts out the response: "Go fuck yourself!"

The battle for the stockade at St. Loup begins the next morning without Joan, probably at the order of Dunois, who remains skeptical of Joan. By the time she arrives on the battlefield, the French soldiers are already retreating. Furious with her soldiers' disobedience, she ends the retreat and leads her army into another charge. Her horse leaps into the fort and she lowers the drawbridge, allowing her army to rush inside and take it. Afterwards, the French salvage an English trebuchet to the delight of the French knight Xaintrailles, who claims it as his own. With the fort taken, they find the Tourelles, a small but impressive stronghold commanded by Sir William Glasdale, that will be much more difficult to take. Joan gives the English another chance to surrender, which they refuse.

Dunois and the senior knights begin tactical planning in St. Augustins church, before the Tourelles fortifications. However, Joan hastily leads the French soldiers to the Tourelles where the prepared English defenders inflict heavy casualties on the French attackers. While climbing a ladder to the fort, Joan gets shot in the chest with an arrow. The siege is brought to a halt by the order of an enraged Dunois, and Joan barely survives after pulling out the embedded arrow herself amidst the concerned senior knights. She leads the second siege the next morning, again doing so spontaneously without first telling Dunois and the senior knights. The French soldiers push a siege tower over and break the drawbridge, gaining entrance to the outer fort. The inner fort has yet to be taken, heavily guarded by a big door. They break in with an improvised battering ram (a cart filled with logs) and begin the last part of the battle when Joan has another vision, this one of Jesus screaming and bleeding violently from the head. Joan feels conflicted with the victory, uneasy about all the deaths that took place. She even prevents an English prisoner from being executed.

The English army regroups on the other side of the river. The French and English armies meet face to face on a large open grass field, poised to engage and slaughter each other. Joan rides alone towards the English and gives them another chance to surrender and return to England. English archers move forward, which prompts French archers to ready themselves. Mounted English knights then move forward but only to suddenly turn about face to retreat. With these knights departing, the English infantry follow suit and leave Sir William Glasdale with no choice but to retire from the field himself. Dunois and the senior French knights are amazed at this unexpected English withdrawal from Orléans.

Joan has freed Orléans. When informed of this, the Duke of Bedford, regent for the still underaged King Henry VI of England, says he wants Joan of Arc burned. Joan returns to Reims to witness the solemn, splendid and emotional coronation of Charles VII of France. Her military campaigns continue to the walls of Paris. Her 10,000 reinforcements never arrive, and the siege to take back the city is a failure. She tells King Charles VII to give her another army, but he wants her only to go home, explaining that he now prefers diplomacy over warfare to achieving France's aims and that her services are therefore no longer required. Seeing Joan as becoming a political nuisance, Charles conspires to get rid of Joan by letting her get captured by enemy forces. She is taken prisoner by the pro-English Burgundians at Compiègne. She briefly meets the Duke of Burgundy who sells her to the English.

When Joan is transferred to Rouen, a French city still under English occupation, a mysterious bearded man in black robes and hood, representing her "Conscience", suddenly appears and begins to question her about her romantic visions and vanishes. Charged with the serious religious crime of heresy stemming from her dubious claim of receiving visions and signs from God, she appears in an ecclesiastical court proceeding that is clearly being forced upon the Christian church by the English occupational government. She refuses to cooperate by not taking an oath and offends the court by doing so. Her defiant behaviour causes uproar in the courtroom, and Pierre Cauchon, the bishop of Beauvais, decides that the case should be heard privately. The English tells Cauchon that the church must quickly condemn and execute Joan for heresy because English soldiers are afraid to fight while she remains alive. However, the bishop is worried about wrongfully condemning and executing a Christian girl who may have truly received visions and signs from God.

Joan's "Conscience" appears in prison and continues to question her visions: wind, clouds, the dance: nothing. The sword was just a sword in a field, so he says. He gives many rational explanations as to how a sword could appear in a field, and then show how irrational her idea of God giving her the sword seems. About to be burned for heresy, Joan is tricked into signing a written recantation (of her supposed visions and signs from God) when the bishop Cauchon tells her she could go to Mass and that he himself would hear her confession. The "Conscience" tells Joan that she had just signed away God's existence and that she had abandoned God. The relieved bishop shows the signed written recantation to the English and tells them that Joan can no longer be burned as a heretic and that now only the English government, and not the church, can turn her into a martyr.

The frustrated English devise another way to have Joan executed by the church instead of by them. English soldiers go into Joan's cellroom and give her men's clothing to wear. They tell Cauchon that she conjured a spell to make the new clothing appear, which suggests that she is an evil witch who must be burned immediately. Although suspecting that the English may have forced the new clothes on Joan, a disappointed Cauchon nonetheless abandons Joan to her fate and would not even hear her confession. The "Conscience", however, offers to hear her last confession: her signs were only what she wanted to believe and were not sent by God; she had fought in the name of revenge for her sister's death; she admits that she had been selfish and cruel. Joan is burned to death in the marketplace of Rouen on May 30, 1431 at only 19 years of age.

Reception

Although the producers of the film claimed that it stays close to the historically accepted story of Joan of Arc, some have disagreed, citing the misrepresentation of medieval battlefields as well as the introduction of fictional weapons . Film reviewers gave the film mixed reviews, with some criticizing the dialogue which some considered inappropriate, while others considered it "corny". The film was meant to show that Joan's motivation and behaviour might not have been purely of divine inspiration (though the motivation presented in the film is fictional) and this departure from the traditional representation of the character outraged some people.

Besson's eye for imagery is well-displayed in this film. Highlights include the transition from panoramic views to intense close ups, as well as the use of space on the screen. Jovovich, who was at one point married to Besson, received generally good reviews for her performance, although she also received a Razzie Award nomination for "Worst Actress".

Cast

References

External links

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