A priest is sent to a small parish in the Polish countryside which is believed to be under demonic possession and there he finds his own temptations awaiting.
— An IMDb slugline that doesn’t do this film justice
When Martin Scorsese selects a film for his Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series — one that won the Special Jury Prize at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival — you know that you are, in fact, watching a masterpiece. Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s seventh film (a slight resume of only 17 films across 50 years) is a film that has the ability to unnerve — like Brunello Rondi’s The Demon (where William Friedkin got his “spider walk”; only Rondi does it without wires, courtesy of Daliah Lavi’s performance), Otakar Vávra’s Witchhammer, and Ken Russell’s The Devils — while at the same time, it overwhelms you in its surrealistic beauty. It’s a film that takes an unconventional Hollywood approach to explore spiritual issues and religious megalomania, but is misclassified as a “horror film” in some quarters.
It’s also a film considered as one of the best Polish films ever produced.
As with Witchhammer, Vavra’s lone foray into the horror genre, Mother Joan of the Angels is also a historical-drama concerned with brutal, religious-based inquisitions — only, instead of witches, we’re dealing with Nuns. All three films — Kawalerowicz, Vávra, and Russell — are based in the same subject matter, with Jerzy Kawalerowicz, basing his on a novella of the same title by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, one loosely based on the 17th century Loudun possessions. While Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) depicts the trial and death of French Priest Urbain Grandier, Mother Joan of the Angels continues the story after Grandier’s death. The story concerns a spurned nun in 1634 France accusing a priest of using black magic to seduce her and her sisters and then had them possessed. After Grandier’s execution, Mother Joan takes his place after his execution.
There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, I can say of any relevance on the quality of this film’s cinematography, direction, and acting. For Mother Joan of the Angels is a film that humbles me. As a critic, I am not even qualified to write as much as I have about this film. My only goal is to you make you, the B&S About Movies reader, aware of it. For this is a film not to be read about, but experienced.
This film is simply perfect. Watch it.
There’s no U.S. online streams to share — pay, freebie, or free-with-ads — but the DVDs as a single issue abound in the online marketplace. We did, however, find a copy of Kawalerowicz’s 6th film, prior to Mother Joan of the Angels, with Night Train (1959) on You Tube. Here’s one of the many extended scenes from Mother Joan of the Angels on You Tube to enjoy. You can watch Mother Joan of the Angels in its entirety on the overseas Euro-streaming platform of FShareTV.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.