Mother Joan of the Angels
Mother Joan of the Angels
(Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1960)
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster
Summary: A startling, unsettling religious horror, Jerzy Kawalerowicz's 'Mother Joan of the Angels' is a masterpiece of Polish cinema. Non-believers should buy the DVD from Second Run immediately.
Mother Superior appears at the doorway. She approaches the visiting preist sent to investigate a covent riddled with what seems to be the devil's work. Exorcisms and burnings have been performed here. The preist is weary, already admitting that he has little experience of the world or women. Now he's about to get a dangerous dose of both. "It's good to see you, father" she says and then she opens her eyes. She saw him with her eyes closed.
Jerzy Kawalerowicz's brilliant 'Mother Joan of the Angels' is a deeply unsettling film. It defies convention. The threats are women, and nuns at that. The leading male who is drafted in as a hero is not heroic in the slightest. The moment the devil appears through Mother Joan is as terrifying as any "horror" Hollywood could craft with its hollow gloss.
Kawalerowicz's film is the real deal. Minimal on music and sparing in its use of editing, this is a picture that draws you into the danger of the moment. The setting is enclosed and eerily quiet. Actors look into the camera. The camera itself glides and pans like a spectre. Kawalerowicz's reveals small details and then huge spaces. He disorientates you. It forces you to re-examine how you accept a film's very ideas.
If Ingmar Bergman's 'Hour of the Wolf' perplexed you with its dangerous hypnotic beauty, chances are this will too. It'd make a great double bill, but not just before bed.
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