There is a stream, the sun is out, and a young girl walks toward us with the hem of her dress pulled up, singing songs in a dulcet tone that would melt even a curmudgeon's heart. She could be any girl, in any place or time, but this is Domremey, a small village in France, the year is 1412, and the child with the long golden locks is Jeanette(Lise Leplat Prudhomme), who would later prove her mettle on the battlefield and be christened Joan of Arc. Her voice obscures the ballad's weight. The song is about God and country. When Jeanette reaches the foreground; she stares into the camera and warbles: "Your reign is so far from coming to the kingdom of earth." Her girlishness jars, because what the future soldier of God makes clear from the outset, in Bruno Dumont's "Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc", is that this seemingly ordinary French girl knows that she is the chosen one. France will be victorious over England in the Hundred Years War, under her command. But for now, she's just a small girl with big dreams. Her austere comportment can't belie her age. Every now and then, it cracks, this old soul veneer, as when she does a handstand and the splits, in those rare moments when she's not contemplating the history of Christianity and her forthcoming role in it.
"Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc" is a musical, an anachronistic one that uses contemporary music, dominated by "black metal". In the film's lighter moment, Dumont uses electronic, suggesting a musical binary: heavy metal/electronica, in which heavy metal is devotional whereas electronic leans toward the worldly side. When Jeanette pals around with a younger boy, electronic noodlings play over the soundtrack as they both move their feet arbitrarily in a sort of pre-dance, like something akin to primitive disco, befitting the fact that 4/4 time hasn't been invented yet. With Hauviette(Victoria Lefebvre), Jeanette's best friend, she code-switches, and her change in demeanor corresponds with the music. Hauviette, likewise, is pious, a good Christian girl who believes in helping the poor, but her worship isn't so single-minded that she doesn't find time "to make dykes with mud". Being around another pint-sized theologian, albeit a less intense one, allows Jeanette to be truer to herself, which is reflected in the fusing of electronica and heavy metal. Beneath the flamenco guitar and synthesizers, faint heavy metal riffing can be detected. Since Hauviette isn't a zealot, the electric guitar supports, not dominates the musical piece. After she parts ways with Hauviette, the genre music goes untempered without any adulteration from softer instruments. Alone with sheep, Jeanette jumps up and down, in which the "black metal" suggests a fundamentalism that borders on madness. Alongside Madame Gervaise(Aline Charles), a nun, the fervor grows in magnitude, as they nod their heads together in sync like headbangers, hair bouncing, wildly, up and down. They're holy rock-and-rollers. "Jeanette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc" recasts heavy metal as God's music, while at the same time, it remains as the music synonymous with alienation, the devil's music. Madame Gervaise encourages Jeanette to turn her back from family. The extreme nun convinces her pupil that only God's love matters. Heavy metal's significance turns into the music of relativity. Jeanette is advised that she should "give her body to human suffering". The divide between heaven and hell becomes difficult to pinpoint.
Jeanette, now known as Joan of Arc, stands trial for heresy before traitorous French clergymen. But the real issue in Carl Theodor Dreyer's "The Passion of Joan of Arc", the 1928 silent French historical drama about the trial of the titular saint, is that she led the English soldiers' oustering from Orleans. Transgressing God serves as an excuse for the real issue at hand; their prejudice towards this young woman; only nineteen, a mere wisp of a girl, who somehow managed to embarrass the English army. The tribunal goads Jeanette unsuccessfully into speaking out against their collaborators, but the cagey young warrior knows that it'll spell her certain doom; she deflects and neutralizes their pervading questions. After that stratagem fails, the priests attempt a different tactic, fishing for canonical violations, and are fortunate that Jeanette speaks without candor about her marriage to Jesus Christ, having asked his highness, the King of Kings, for the salvation of her soul. Men make the rules, arbitrary rules, so Jeanette is charged with blasphemy. What "The Passion of Joan of Arc" lays bare, a remarkable achievement for its time, is that Dreyer sees the bigger picture, that religion, a patriarchal construct, keeps men and women in a holding pattern of master and servant. The clergymen badger Jeanette into recitation of The Lord's Prayer because her self-reliance proves their irrelevancy. The accused didn't need the church's help to learn, and more importantly, understand it. Another woman, Jeanette's mother, taught her daughter those venerated words. These men of the cloth, so unforgiving and uncouth, clearly, care more about earthly delights than heavenly ones. "The Maid of Orleans", alleged heretic, is on trial for making the audacious claim that she had been sent by God to save France. Off the record, these men are terrified of Jeanette; she actually believes with all her heart and soul in the Holy Ghost. Here is a claimant who can verify his existence, without any ulterior motive for doing so. She exposes them as impostors. These learned men run the church like a business; they're in it for the money, the fame and glory of being his anointed caretakers. What if she is right? What if God exists, after all? That would mean they're all going to hell for nihilism. The cloaked men don't want to know the truth. They try to discredit Jeanette. Recognizing her attractiveness, they discourage her proto-gender performance with the suggestion that she wear women's clothes. One priest suggests it was the devil, not Saint Michael, the archangel, that she had spoken to.
This angel loved heavy metal.
It was Michael.