[Originally published in The Seattle Weekly, 1998]
You leave behind a lot of the world outside when you step into a Robert Bresson film. One of the most ascetic, uncompromising filmmakers of any age, Bresson strips his films bare. Fastidiously faithful to detail, he shuts out all distractions (and that includes what we might consider acting) to create films that more resemble ritual than real life.
In The Trial Of Joan Of Arc, Bresson so strictly adheres to the Spartan medium shots that everything that breaks this formal plan becomes all the more arresting: the quill scratching notes into the trial ledger, the peering eyes of the British staring at Joan (Florence Delay) through a crack in her cell wall, and the lonely shot as she sits framed in complete isolation, still, reserved. Based on contemporary accounts of Joan’s trial for heresy, Bresson compresses the months-long ordeal into a series of interrogations interspersed with a few brief comments by her judges and onlookers. Fastidiously locked into a few unvarying angles, Joan’s world is limited to the court, her cell, and finally the courtyard where her execution are executed – even the onlookers, heard on the soundtrack, are pointedly omitted from the visual world.