The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

French Theatrical release poster
Directed by Luc Besson
Produced by Patrice Ledoux
Written by Luc Besson
Andrew Birkin
Starring Milla Jovovich
Dustin Hoffman
Faye Dunaway
John Malkovich
Studio Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) 12 November 1999
Running time 158 minutes
Country France
Language English
Budget $85,000,000
Box office $66,976,317

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc is a French/American historical drama film directed by Luc Besson. The screenplay was written by Besson and Andrew Birkin, and 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 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, a miniseries, Joan of Arc, was made for television at the same time as Besson's film.



Joan, as a little girl, confesses her sins in church two or three times a day. The priest asks after her family; concluding all is well at home, he decides she is only unusually religious. She skips out of the church, glad to be forgiven by God and Jesus. Wandering away from her village, she has a somewhat violent and supernatural vision. She returns to find her village burning. Her sister, Catherine tries to protect her by hiding her inside a closet before the English arrive at their house. The Englishman sees Catherine and forces himself on her but she valiantly fights him off. Frustrated he takes out his sword and stabs her in her stomach, pinning her to the wall. Catherine's now lifeless body is further desecrated and raped repeatedly as Joan watches in horror. She survives the attack, and 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.

Many years later, at Chinon, 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 pick him out by herself.

Walking slowly through the crowded room, she finds Charles VII in the corner; Charles' three senior knights (the Duke of Alençon, Gilles de Rais and La Hire) put their daggers to her throat. Joan tells Charles "I have a message from the King of Heaven for you, and you only", and in a private audience, explaining her visions, declares that she is to lead the French Army to victory against the English, and predicts that only then will he become the King of France.

The royal court, still reluctant to give Joan an army to command, wants additional proof that she has been sent by God. A specially appointed group of women first proceeds to verify her claim of maidenhood. The testing continues as they question whether her knowledge of warfare is good enough to command an army. To additional demands of extraordinary kinds of proof she replies that she did not come to perform tricks; the fact that she had travelled through enemy territory in her journey to Chinon without being killed should have sufficed.

Joan, clad in armour and equipped with a long white banner, leads the French army to the besieged city of Orléans which was under the military command of Jean de Dunois, the Bastard of Orleans. Joan arrives with her attendant Aulon and the senior knights the Duke of Alençon, Gilles de Rais and La Hire. Standing in front of a rough model of the city and its surroundings, Joan points to the Boulevard des Tourelles, suggesting an attack there. 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 commanders show their skepticism of Joan's leadership by starting next morning's battle for the stockade at St. Loup without her. 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; Joan pulls out the embedded arrow herself and collapses. The seriousness of her wounds causes great concern within the French army. She rises before the troops the next morning, and to their delight, leads them in a second attack. An English siege tower falls and the drawbridge is broken, granting access to the outer fort. An improvised battering ram of a cart filled with logs is brought to bear on the great door of the inner fort. They break in; amid the slaughter of the final stand, 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, and the French and English armies move to face each other on a large open grassy field. Joan rides alone towards the English and shouts out to them that this is their chance to surrender and return to England. English archers move forward, which prompts French archers to ready themselves. Mounted English knights then move forward, and then suddenly turn, and slowly ride away. The English infantry follow suit. Sir William Glasdale, aghast, is left with no choice but to retire from the field himself. The French cheer; Joan has freed Orléans.

Informed of the victory, 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. Convinced by Yolande of Aragon that Joan has become 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, dubbed "The Conscience" in the script, suddenly appears, and as suddenly vanishes, after questioning her visions, her motivations, and beliefs. 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 take an oath, declaring it runs contrary to her beliefs. Her defiance 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. The Bishop demurs, expressing his concern about the possibility of wrongfully condemning and executing a Christian girl who might have truly received visions and signs from God.

Joan's "Conscience" appears in her cell and continues to question her. He shows her dramatizations of mundane circumstances leading to a sword appearing in a field, and then a miraculous evocation of a shining sword descending from the heavens to the strains of an invisible angelic choir and orchestra. Of all the possibilities, you chose this one, he says. About to be burned for heresy, Joan is distraught that she will be brought before God without having given her confession, and the Bishop Cauchon plays upon this, requiring that she sign a written recantation of her visions and signs from God before he can hear her confession. The "Conscience" tells Joan that she has just signed away God's existence and that she has 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 cell room, rip her clothes 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, reneging on his promise to 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 slowly burned alive in the marketplace of Rouen.

The real Joan was executed on May 30, 1431 at only 19 years of age.



Critical response

Reviews were mixed. While director Luc Besson's and director of photography Thierry Arbogast's cinematography itself was mostly praised in terms such as "brilliant", "beautiful", "eye-filling", "stylish", and "breathtaking",[1] the performance by Milla Jovovich, the level of violence in the battle scenes, modern language used in dialogues, and historical accuracy were the most common topics discussed negatively. Jovovich's performance was a particularly hot topic, earning her a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actress, with the majority of reviewers regarding it as hysterical caricature, while a minority felt particularly moved by its "intensity" in portraying "a radical zealot like John Brown",[disambiguation needed ] and only few critics did not particularly feel one way or the other. However, Yahoo! Movies writes regarding her role in The Messenger that "Jovovich received respectable reviews from impressed critics who were unable to fathom that the girl with the commanding screen presence came from the emotionally vacuous modeling world."[2]

Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a 36 percent freshness rating among T-meter critics, while its survey of top critics yielded only 5 percent positive reviews.[3] Its consensus report is "The heavy-handed narrative collapses under its own weight."

Presenting a more weighted average, Metacritic[4] counts 54% of professional reviews rating the film favorably, citing the majority of reviews as being "mixed or average". Out of 33 professional reviews on display, 12 are positive, 18 mixed, and 3 negative.

Box office

The film grossed $14,276,317 in the USA, plus $66,976,317 worldwide, with the combined gross of close to $80 million if not creating a profit came near to its production cost of c. $81 million (390 million Francs).


The Messenger won two César Awards, one for Costume Design and one for Best Sound, and was further nominated for six more Césars for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Film, Best Music Written for a Film, and Best Production Design.

The film further won two Lumiere Awards for Best Director and Best Film, was nominated for two Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards for Best Costume Design and Best Production Design, and won the Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing.

The film's trailer was nominated for a Golden Trailer Awards for Most Original Trailer. One Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actress for Milla Jovovich.


Besson's visual design of Joan is very unusual compared to earlier depictions and adaptations, particularly in her short hair.

See also


External links

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