An experimental short film about the trial of Joan of Arc.
Premiering 23rd February 2018 in Oslo.
Filmed in Capella Johannea and the church tower in Majorstua Kirke, Oslo.
Idea and concept: Sophie Barth and Eirin Hunnes Øverås: INO Theatre
Script: Sophie Barth and Eirin Hunnes Øverås
Director & producer: Sophie Barth
Joan of Arc: Eirin Hunnes Øverås
Liv Kristin Holmberg
Eirin Hunnes Øverås
Liv Kristin Holmberg
Film and edit: Maja Hannisdal
Music: Simen Korsmo Robertsen
Music in the tower (khaen instrument): Theodor Barth
Make-up, costume and props: INO Theatre
Subtitles: Sophie Barth
Introduction from the premier:
[587 years later]
INO Theatre was created as a company focusing on physical theatre, and with inspiration from theatre director Jerzy Grotowski. We have used our experience of working with different physical theatre methods to find a way to get closer to understanding Joan of Arc. In our research process we have sought a way to access Joan also as a character, and how to understand her from a modern perspective. As we live in a modern secular society here in Norway, we initially have little possibility of understanding fully what it meant to be religious in the 15th century. We can only imagine, and of course read about it. Here we used physical theatre to help ourselves embody Joan, as the work of becoming a character also starts from understanding this person from within. We wanted to treat Joan with the utmost respect, and thus treading carefully so that we wouldn’t go too far with interpreting her story.
So hence, what does it mean to approach her story many centuries later, and yet find a meeting point? At first our research seemed almost never-ending, and we were often quite overwhelmed by how much we had to read even just to start writing the script. We read through most of her transcribed trial which is available online, and borrowed stacks and stacks of books at the library. However, when we had been through all of this material, what were we left with? Our script changed over and over again, and it was hard to choose what to keep and what to leave out. We had a quite clear theatre concept in mind, and for a long time we wondered where it would be suitable to stage it. We worked very determinately to have our first performance in September 2017, and as we moved forward the project also changed. The suggestion of creating a film came up, and we were at first not entirely sure if this would be the right way do to things. Could we lose some of the story we wanted to convey if we didn’t have a live performance, for instance? We worked through our script once more, and saw that it was moving into a new phase, and where a film was in fact the right format. Our text was telling us something new, and at this point we understood that we had to think differently.
Carl Theodor Dreyer’s masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc had been one of my go-to films for a period as a director, and it was only natural to think about it now that I was trying to figure out how to make a short film. This was also long before I even thought about ever making something about Joan of Arc, and I watched it mainly because Antonin Artaud plays in it. When starting our project, one of the issues was that I didn’t want to let it have too much influence over our work. I must have used half of the time planning how to get away from it, and knowing very well that this is a well-known method for only getting closer to it. This never ends the way you think it will anyway.
Another big film influence is the work of film director David Lynch, and I learned through him to appreciate the uncanny and the very surreal noir atmosphere that you find in all his films. Perhaps incidentally also in Joan, burns. However many influences I may have had, I did end up making a very conscious reference to Dreyer – whilst Lynch sort of murmurs back stage.
Moving forward it thus also became important to look into why the story of Joan is relevant and why we should attempt doing it in 2017/2018.
The project actually started with Eirin in London, and her teacher telling her that she should play Joan of Arc. Later on while meeting in Oslo I was invited into the project. This is not just a suggestion from a teacher that came out of the blue, on the contrary – it moved something and planted a seed of thought. Eirin then kept this idea with her, and thus moving it into action. It is a crucial moment, as you have the choice of either committing or letting it go. We had both just graduated (in 2015) and were eager to move on, so this came to life in a moment where we were searching for a way to continue working independently. Joan’s story thus became an important part of our own process, while also being captivating and pushing us to know more.
Our first discussions about what Joan meant to us started with how women through history, at least from around Joan’s time, have lived in a-historicity. They have not been counted for in the same way as men, and the little that are told about them has also been filtered. Joan is a bit different here however, as her trial and life is very well documented, but at the time it was meant as a warning of what would happen to heretics. Centuries later in France, Jules Michelet popularised Joan’s story, in his Histoire de France (1883). Through this work, many started to share an interest in learning more about Joan, and from then on her story was spreading.
Joan was nicknamed The Maid of Orléans and was considered a national symbol throughout the 19th century until our time. After her canonisation in 1920 she has remained as one of the most important French Saints and heroines. This is also well documented in cultural history, and like the many iconic works such as George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan her story has been adapted over and over again. The different versions of Joan have also fascinated us, and through this also the theme of “metamorphosis”. In one of our main sources Jeanne d’Arc: Les métamorphoses d’une héroine (ed. Phillippe Martin), this issue of metamorphosis is discussed in several interesting essays, and show how her story has been shaped by someone other than herself. So, many centuries later, there is no longer just one story of Joan but a polyphony of voices who might have changed a detail or two. From there on, her story keeps on transforming and from time to time we do move back ad fontes. We are responding by giving you a combination of both: we have taken the historical facts into account very minutely before moving into another metamorphosis.
Joan today still represents a woman of extraordinarily strong faith, and perhaps it how she persisted and succeeded in her God-given tasks that has kept her relevance throughout the centuries. Even though we are living in a secular world, the notion of this sort of faith still exists, and we encounter theological discussions where her story remains very valid. In this film we have specifically focused on the notion of doubt, and how this might have affected her. Although this is a longer narrative than what we show in the film, we emphasise the crucial moment when she chose faith and removed herself from doubt. This also led her to be named ‘relapse’, and thereby condemned to be burned at the stake.
Our title is inspired by (poet, dramatist) Paul Claudel’s Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher, and also Joan’s last last moments in Rouen. For us the word “burns” is not just her death but also the burning desire to pursue her quest, given to her by God. The comma in between the words is a sense of breath and thought. We want the audience to think about the title, and experience that pause between the words.
Our film is a contribution to one of many Joans.
And finally we would like to thank our wonderful team:
Maja Hannisdal, our cinematographer and editor
Simen Korsmo Robertsen, our musician
Liv Kristin Holmberg for all her assistance, and performative work
Theodor Barth for voiceover work and live music improvisation
Last but not least, Majorstua Kirke for letting us film in the chapel and the tower, and making this film possible.
Written by director Sophie Barth