Proces de Jeanne d'Arc (The Trial of Joan of Arc) (1962)





Director:     Robert Bresson.

Starring:     Florence Delay (Jeanne d'Arc),  Jean-Claude Fourneau (Bishop Cauchon),  Roger Honorat (Jean Beaupere),  Marc Jacquier (Jean Lemaitre),  Jean Gillibert (Jean de Chatillon),  Michel Herubel (Isambert de la Pierre - French Monk),  Andr Rgnier (D'Estivet),  Arthur Le Bau (Jean Massieu),  Marcel Darbaud (Nicolas de Houppeville),  Philippe Dreux (Martin Ladvenu - French Monk),  Paul-Robert Mimet (Guillaume Erard),  Grard Zingg (Jean-Lohier).

life and death of a more sophisticated Joan of Arc focusing on the psychological and physical torture used to break her


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

"Joan of Arc died on May 30, 1431.  She received no burial and no portrait remains of her.  But we have a better portrait:  her words before the judges of Rouen.  I have used the genuine minutes of the trial.  For the last instants, I have used the witness statements from the Trial of Rehabilitation which took place 25 years later.  When the film starts, Joan has been imprisoned for several months in Rouen.  Captured at Compiegne by French soldiers loyal to her adversaries, she has been sold to the English (we know the interests at stake).  She appears before a tribunal made up exclusively of members of the Anglophile University of Paris and presided over by Bishop Cauchon."

Joan answers a few questions before her tribunal. She is taken back to her cell. 

She returns to the tribunal.  They want her to take the oath, but she tells them:  "I cannot tell the whole truth.  I come from God and do not belong here."  She then talks about her voices.  "It was always accompanied by a bright light.  I recognized the voice of an angel.  It told me to raise the siege of Orleans and go to Vaucouleurs and what would happen there."  She is asked how many times does she hear this voice?  She answers:  "Every day.  I've come to need it."  The most recent voice told her:  "To reply to you bravely.  Be on guard.  God sends me and you're in great danger."  She also says:  "Without God's grace I can do nothing."  Joan is removed from the court. 

She's back in court.  She testifies she heard the voices of St. Catherine and St. Margaret.  "They've guided me for seven years."  "I was also comforted by St. Michael."  Joan also says that she has never killed anyone.  The king gave her from 10 to 12 thousand soldiers.  At the siege of Orleans an arrow pierced her neck.  St. Catherine and St. Margaret told her ahead of time that she would be wounded. 

Next time in court she says:  "In seven years, God will give the French victory over the English."  She is asked if the voices tell her she will be freed from prison?  Yes.  She adds:  "I shall be rescued.  Those who seem my death may well die before me."

A lot of the little things they ask her originated from rumors or made-up stories.  She easily bats the accusations away with little trouble.

The questioning of Joan now goes on in the confines of her cell. 

Her voices told her that it was necessary that she be captured, "but they did not say when." "It was God's will that I was caught."  What did the voices call her:  "Joan the Maid, Daughter of God."

Three women are sent into Joan's cell..  When they come out they confirm the truth of Joan's statement that she is a virgin.

Why does she think she was chosen?  "God chose a simple girl as intermediary."  She tells the bishop that her voices tell her that she will triumph at court.  Has she ever acted against the will of God?  "Yes, at Beaurevoir.  But my voices saved me."  They ask her if she will dress like a woman?  She answers:  "I will when I'm gone.  The way I dress now pleases God."  An English overseer of the trial says that if Joan's virginity gives her much of her strength, then they will make sure she loses her virginity. 

A man is brought in to rape Joan. 

Joan wonders if her people have forgotten her. 

Isn't Joan supposed to obey the church and its churchmen?   "God must be served first."

Joan is brought to court where her beliefs and statements are criticized openly.  Joan rises during the reading and says:  "I protest against these false accusations, contrary to the interrogation and to my answers."

One of the members of the tribunal will not state his conclusions about Joan.  He says the members are under too much constraint and can not work in this kind of atmosphere.  Another member gets up and starts to leave.  The bishop orders him to say.  The member leaves anyway. 

Joan tells her jailers that the bishop sent her some food and it made her ill.   During her illness, her chains are removed. 

Joan's two counselors tell her she can appeal to the Pope and to the Holy Council.  The man that has been giving her hand signals as to her answers tells Joan:  "Submit and save yourself, Joan."  Joan just stares at him. 

The bishop tells her that if she will not repent, she will be subject to being burned at the stake. 

And now Joan will be tortured.  She says:  "If you tear me limb from limb, I will not speak differently.  And if I do, I'll say you used force."  The bishop says take her away. 

The clergymen ask her to recant and repent to save herself.  Her answer is:  "I stand by what I said." 

The place of execution is constructed. 

They ask her if she will recant?  She will not respond.  So the death sentence is read to her.  They keep asking her over and over again to recant.  Finally, she says:  "I'll do anything you want."  They bring her a document and say:  "Abjure and sign this paper.  You will be freed from prison."  Joan repeats the sentences of recantation one after another contained in the document.  She signs the paper.  The bishop says that the church forgives her.  Nevertheless, she is condemned to perpetual prison. 

In her cell Joan is angry now.  She tells the bishop:  "I have not been given what I was promised.. . . I'd rather die than be put in chains."  She also says that her voices told her:  "That I was wrong to abjure to save my life. . . . If I said God hasn't sent me, I would be damned.  He has sent me."  She says she acted as she did in court because she was fearful of the fire.  "But I'd rather die than endure this torment."  The bishop announces that she is a relapsed heretic. 

Joan's two counselors now come to prepare Joan for death.  She throws her head back onto her pillow and says:  "I want to die, but I don't want to burn."

The bishop comes in to say that her voices deceived her.  Joan agrees that the voices did deceive her.     

Joan asks for communion and receives it.  Later she is dressed in sack cloth. 

Another announcement of death is read out, etc., etc.  Joan only asks for a cross to take with her.  She is given a very small cross.  She says a short prayer and kisses the cross.  She now is taken to the place of execution.  Someone tries to trip her as she walks along.  She marches up to the huge stake and is chained and roped to it.  The fire is lit.  Her shoes and other property are thrown onto the fire.  Her two counselors hold up a large cross in front of her. 

Joan says:  "My voices were from God.  What I did, I did by the command of God.  No, my voices did not deceive me.  My revelations were from God."   She calls out to Jesus!  The fire consumes her. 

The last scene is of the burned stake still standing with the attached chains on it. 


I feel that we get to know more about Joan and her motivations in this film, than many of the others.  She was remarkably composed and patient with her questioners.  She answered the questions consistently with her common themes.  And, of course, she started getting scared when they told her that she would burn at the stake.  She said on one occasion that she would like to die, but she doesn't want to burn.  From her fear, she was willing to sign a statement of recantation.  But as soon as they told her that she would be kept in perpetual imprisonment, she became angry that she was misled and duped by the clergymen.  So she then chose death and stuck to that commitment with remarkable calmness.  On the stake she reiterated her claims that she only acted the way God wanted her to act.  A very, brave and remarkable woman was Joan.   Some of the other films don't paint her so bravely.  It's like they fault her for being fearful, questioning the depth of her fate.  But Joan is not God, but simply human.  And, regardless of being afraid, she went to her death bravely and reasserted the story that she told from the very beginning and throughout her journey. 

Florence Delay (Jeanne d'Arc) was very good.  You could feel that sense of determination and commitment of Joan to God in her portrayal.  She gives in to her fears for awhile, but only when she was totally exhausted and feeling very down, partly because of the tortures she endured, including the psychological ones.   This is all made plain as day in Delay's portrayal.  She seemed to always gets the right feelings portrayed for each scene. 

The film recommits us to the determination and loyalty of Joan to God and the truth. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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