Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Original title: Matka Joanna Od Aniolow
Poland, 1961. Film Polski Film Agency, ZRF “Kadr”. Screenplay by Tadeusz Konwicki, Jerzy Kawalerowicz, based on the novel by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. Cinematography by Jerzy Wojcik. Music by Adam Walacinski. Production Design by Tadeusz Borowczyk, Roman Mann. Film Editing by Wieslawa Otocka.
Fascinating exploration of faith and superstition as a priest arrives at a remote convent to be spiritual consultant to a nun who has been reported as being possessed by a legion of demons. When he arrives he finds a nunnery overrun with madness, the habited woman of the title veering back and forth between pious begging for relief and full-on raving lunacy. The priest has a crisis of faith while Mother Joan reveals herself to be crafty with her challenges: does she truly believe herself overcome by the devil, or is she aware and in control of her outbursts and looking to manipulate her religion’s male-dominated power structure? The previous male figurehead who ran the place was burned as a sorcerer, and at key points we learn that he was particularly handsome, so the idea of repressed female sexuality is not too ridiculous to be believed. The film is a fascinating combination of elements, long intense scenes of Bergmanesque conversations about God and morality, including a terrific sequence when the priest consults a rabbi (not in a bar!), and then playfully free moments of visual expressiveness that let you know what Black Narcissus would be like if all the nuns were Sister Ruth. A marvelous experience.
Cannes Film Festival Award: Jury Special Prize