Joan of Arc is one of the most famous women in the history of Christendom. Her heroism was celebrated during her lifetime, and her ongoing popularity compelled the church, which had condemned her as a heretic in 1431, to take a second look at her trial and rescind its verdict only 25 years later. Joan the woman quickly became Joan the icon, a beloved subject of paintings and sculptures and, beginning in 1899, films.
In 1920, the church that had once condemned her now declared her a saint. During World War II, both sides used images of Joan in their propaganda. The Nazi collaborators compared the Allied planes bombing France to the English invaders who had executed Joan centuries before, while the resistance saw in Joan a freedom fighter who could throw off the German yoke. And Joan's legacy lives on: in the hit song "She's So High," pop singer Tal Bachman groups the virgin warrior with sex symbols Cleopatra and Aphrodite as paragons of femininity; Leelee Sobieski starred in a TV movie about the maid from Lorraine last spring; and now Luc Besson has released his medieval epic The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.
Besson, whose last film was the hyperchaotic sci-fi adventure The Fifth Element, traces the basic outline of Joan's life well enough. Joan (Milla Jovovich) first begins to hear voices when she is 13 years old. At 17, she enters the court of the Dauphin, Charles (John Malkovich), a French royal on the verge of losing a war against the English. The future Charles VII claims the French throne for himself; the English claim it for their infant king Henry VI. Joan mysteriously secures the Dauphin's confidence and wins over his generals, leading his troops to victory at Orleans and paving the way for his coronation in ...1