Monday, May 29, 2006

Mother Joan of the Angels (Kawalerowicz, 1961)

Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels is a curious film that seems to set itself up as a ‘nunsploitation’ horror film and eventually settles into a fairly rudimentary theological discussion concerning the nature of evil and its purpose in God’s universe. Perhaps the following statement will reveal more about the viewer than it will the work in question, but I found it to be much more engaging operating in the former mode than the latter. The plot concerns a 17th century clergyman and his attempts to rid a convent of the demons that have caused the blessed virgins to engage in bizarre behavior, such as scurrying about like vermin at the splash of holy water. The unfortunate Mother Joan seems to be the focal point of the satanic possession, holding eight different devils within her. Our introduction to her character and the later attempts to exorcise the demons turn out to be the film’s highlights. Lucyna Winnicka is excellent in the role, toying with the faithful using a knowing smile, rolling all over the floor and using other physicality to convey the tumultuous goings-on within her body. Unfortunately, just when the film is starting to heat up, it veers off in another direction, engaging in tedious religious discussion that is especially hard to take seriously given the antics that have preceded it. Still, Kawalerowicz’s film, which is beautifully shot and well-acted, may prove to be more palatable to some viewers. For me, it worked only when it strove to amuse and titilate, not when it attempted to enlighten.



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