May 28, 2016

Ingrid Bergman, Joan of Arc

as JOAN OF ARC
I was aggressively displeased about having to watch Joan of Arc, for the obvious reason that I've already seen 1928's The Passion of Joan of Arc and knew that the former had no chance of stacking up, no matter the level of softness I have for Ingrid Bergman. And I was right: Joan of Arc is a severely long-winded film, its subject matter superficially Hollywoodified as 1948's half-baked attempt at a Prestige Picture. But the worst part of it all is that this dull dreck is led and anchored by an actress who is wholly miscast.



The studios (and the Oscars for that matter) have been testing my tolerance with Bergman since 1943 now. They tried it with a 28 year old (Norwegian) Bergman as a 19 year old (Spanish) MarĂ­a in For Whom the Bell Tolls, and I was somewhat phased. They tried it again with Bergman as a nun / woman-of-God in The Bells of St. Mary's, to which I had a fairly tepid reaction. But I could not and cannot tolerate the ugly love child of these performances--that of a 33 year old (Norwegian) Bergman playing a 16 to 19 year old (French) Joan of Arc. There's a certain threshold of ridiculousness that's trespassed here, a certain level of self-indulgence that begs the question: was this really necessary? The obvious answer is likely yes, because this is the very performance that won Bergman a Tony Award the year prior. But what's flat out disappointing about this film adaptation is that (perhaps due to the less forgiving camera lens) Bergman just seems as though she's spending a massive 145 minute running time playing dress-up. Bergman literally looks ridiculous in the battle scenes, hopping about in her awkward bob, yelling out her lines in an stifled manner. She does the "timid" aspect of Joan well enough, but that's to be expected given that that is also the general theme of her 1940s nominated work. But she's also awkwardly stiff (and subsequently lackluster to watch), as though she realizes that she's in too deep here. She utters phrases such as "our strength is in our faith…" and "we can only win if we become God’s army" to soldiers and yet she doesn't possess that very leader-like gravitas. While typically I've had no problems with her accent, it is cumbersome here and feels strained by the verbiage of the script. She cries well enough, but what does that matter when I'm not convinced by what she's doing as a whole? Numbed by the film's lifelessness and tickled by the dubiousness of Bergman's casting, I'm afraid that there's little more to Joan of Arc aside from technicolor costumes, exterior and interior shots of castles, and a trumpeting soundtrack. Chances are I'd have been bored by the film had it been a different, more appropriate actress in the role, so it really needed an actress who can truly elevate the primordial, "costumey" elements of the source material. But alas, that was already done...way back in 1928.

7 comments:

  1. I haven't seen this but I haven't heard very good things about it. Bergman is one of my favodite actresses but this performance sounds rather lackluster. And the 1928 version is almost impossible to top.

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    1. I love Bergman too! I've really been taken by her work within this decade, but this one was tough to sit through. Agreed w/ 1928 being impossible to top, I was annoyed with the thought that they would even try to duplicate it...

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  2. I heartily agree. Also, watching this made me doubt if she would be any good in The Snake Pit if she had took the role.

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    1. Y'know, I don't actually think Bergman would have been bad in The Snake Pit. I really liked her in Gaslight, and think there are enough parallels between the two films and roles that the outcome couldn't possibly be that bad.

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  3. The movie is too long by half, and everything you say about Bergman's work here is accurate. She was utterly miscast, Tony be damned, and I see her constantly straining in this role to be what she can't be: straining to be young, straining to be innocent, straining to be a French peasant girl ... the list goes on. I also thinks she's too "busy" here because I see her acting rather than inhabiting the role. This film got terrible reviews upon release, so it's another one of those Academy 'head-scratchers' as to how she got nominated.

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    1. It's funny, even in respects to her Tony win -- I see 'moments' and bits and pieces of 'dramatic' dialogue that might justify an audience to elect Bergman, but everything in the film adaptation just comes off as unnatural. Easily one of my least favorite films to have to watch this decade.

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  4. Haven't seen this but I am extremely curious now - There is a kind of emotional purity in Bergman's acting that I always find beautiful and touching (epitomized in Autumn Sonata), but at the same time, her physicalisation and deliveries can come off as a bit artificial and annoying for me. I can see the same thing happening here when I watch it, but I always find her watchable anyway.

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