Mother Joan Of The Angels (1961)

JERZY KAWALEROWICZ

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

Original title:  Matka Joanna Od Aniolow

Poland, 1961.  Film Polski Film Agency, ZRF “Kadr”.  Screenplay by , Jerzy Kawalerowicz, based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Music by .  Production Design by , .  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

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