Capital Celluloid 2020 – Day 35: Tue Feb 4

Joan of Arc of Mongolia (Ottinger, 1989): Cine Lumiere, 6.15pm

In Delphine Seyrig’s last film, set on the Trans-Siberian railway, seven Western women are kidnapped by a mysterious Mongolian princess and her companions and are forced to join their caravan on a journey through inner Mongolia into the unknown.
New York Times review (full version here): 
There’s an element of reserve in Ulrike Ottinger’s approach to the characters; she’s a respectful outsider, and her observations are impressionistic, not intimate. She films, along with the styles and manners of Mongolian society, the strong but imprecise influence that exposure to Mongolian culture has upon the Western women forced to observe it and participate in it. Her approach to their experiences is similarly fragmentary—full in its approach to detail but dramatically gappy and fitful. Ottinger’s art is more deeply stylistic and intellectual than it is dramatic. The dramatic organization of a movie is essentially mathematical; the stylistic tone is essentially poetic. The difference is that the former can be learned or imposed, whereas the inventions of style are personal, spontaneous, inimitable, and unteachable. Form can be mastered; style is what one either has or doesn’t. Style is a crucial part of personality, of personhood, of character—but “Johanna d’Arc” suggests that, like personal identity itself, it doesn’t emerge in isolation but is informed by culture, beliefs, heritage, landscape, a grand social realm that each person involuntarily represents and transforms. Ottinger seeks, through style, the deep background from which it arises, and finds a superb, simple cinematic correlate for that idea. For all its outwardly probing observation and decorative delights, the movie concludes with an abstract touch that’s as breathtaking as any of its sights and sounds.
Richard Brody

Here (and above) is a flavour of the film.

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