MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS (1961) – The Dungeon Review!
Those who have been following this blog already know I love me a naughty nun! Whether they are devil-possessed, drug-addicted, or sex-crazed (or all three!) I’m going to watch it. I was thrilled to stumble upon Mother Joan of the Angels, not expecting a film with this premise to come out of 1961. The story is loosely based on the 1634 case in Loudun, France of alleged devil possession of the Ursuline nuns. Aldous Huxley wrote his book The Devils of Loudun in the 1950’s also based on this story; which Ken Russell based his 1971 film The Devils. In case you have never heard the term Nunsploitation; it was made popular in the 1970’s and is exactly what it sounds like; nun exploitation. These films are so often lumped into the horror genre where they rarely belong. I guess it is the whole “devil” thing that lands them there. While I enjoy the sub-genre I do have my issues with classifying most of them as horror. IMDB lists Mother Joan of the Angels as Drama, horror, mystery. Mother Joan of the Angels just barely qualifies as horror, and isn’t remotely exploitative. I did a little bit of homework before watching this title so I was not terribly surprised. Don’t come here expecting Alucarda or The Devils and you will not be disappointed. Mother Joan of the Angels is a beautifully filmed and well-acted drama but it is not a horror film.
A priest is denounced by a group of nuns as a sorcerer and burned at the stake. Father Suryn is sent to replace him and deal with the convent of allegedly devil-possessed nuns. While having a meal in a local inn he gets an earful of gossip about the nuns from the townsfolk. He soon meets Mother Joan and her demons who in a moment of clarity begs him to help her. To save Mother Joan, Father Suryn will sacrifice mind and body ultimately leaving him questioning a lifetime of faith.
Mother Joan of the Angels is more of a character study than anything else. Not to suggest that is a bad thing; it is one of the films best assets. That is thanks in a large part to Lucyna Winnicka and Mieczyslaw Voit’s performances. Lucyna Winnicka is stunning as Mother Joan. Her possession scenes are inspired! Winnicka gives a realistic performance never going over the top. Mieczyslaw Voit is both empathetic and intense as Father Suryn. I was really impressed with a scene where Father Suryn consults a Rabbi. I am not sure if I just had a duh moment but I didn’t notice the Rabbi was played by Voit until I looked up the cast on IMDB.
Visually, Mother Joan of the Angels is outstanding. Its strikingly stark style is a pleasure to view. Come on! Just look at these gorgeous screenshots! Lacking any special effects the story is relayed by the visuals and the strong performances from the two leads. The acting generally speaking is good even by the most minor player. The group of nuns feverishly reacting to Mother Joan’s demons alone make this film worth watching! The visuals and performances are top-notch but I did have one minor issue with Mother Joan of the Angels. I don’t mind a slower pace but it does drag a bit early in the film. Tension is built to some extent during this period, so it didn’t really hurt my overall feelings about Mother Joan of the Angels.
Messing with the church was a good way to get your film banned in Europe even in the 1970’s when censorship was loosening. I can imagine Mother Joan of the Angels was quite controversial in 1961; but as far as I know Mother Joan of the Angels was never banned. The film actually received the special Jury prize at Cannes in 1961! Mother Joan of the Angels is a visually stunning, well-acted, character study that is for those who enjoy their possessed nuns presented in a Kurosawa or Bergman kind of way. Recommended!
POLISH WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES
Dungeon Rating: 4/5
Directed By: Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Starring: Lucyna Winnicka, Mieczyslaw Voit, Anna Ciepielewska, Maria Chwalibóg, Kazimierz Fabisiak, Stanislaw Jasiukiewicz, Zygmunt Zintel, Jerzy Kaczmarek, Franciszek Pieczka, Jaroslaw Kuszewski, Lech Wojciechowski