Monday, 5 February 2007

Mother Joan of the Angels / Matka Joanna od Aniolow (Poland, 1961, Jerzy Kawalerowicz)


“What do you know of the world?”
“Do you Father?”
“Not much either”

This conversation between Father Josef Suryn and a member of the local townsfolk demonstrates how the Father is ill-equipped to address the possession of a convent in a small town, which has created a sense of collective hysteria. What has recently transpired is told to Father Josef and us through the rumours and half-truths told by semi-reliable witnesses of doubtful moral standards, who mock Father Josef’s austere lifestyle and proclamations of their greed and gluttony, whilst Wolodkowicz, who seems to be the most influential member of the community, later encourages Sister Margaret to marry a squire, thus turning her away from her vows.

Father Josef’s unswerving dedication to his faith and his inability to understand the world causes his downfall. Upon his visit to the convent, Sister Margaret explains to the townsfolk that he is “too weak for our convent”. He explains that he only knows women as saints; his mother and sisters were equally as pious as he is, so is Father Josef in any position to assist a nun who has been possessed by eight demons for the last six months? Perhaps Father Josef’s fate was sealed in an early prediction by the local barmaid who reads fortunes. She predicts that he will meet a maid who is a Mother and that he will love a humpback. Ominously, there are several discussions about fate and how it cannot be avoided, including a conversation with a rabbi.

Father Josef’s first discussion with Mother Joan seems civil enough, but it is when she leaves that she shows signs of being possessed, circling the room, blaspheming, and trying to attack Father Josef. Interestingly, at this point the other nuns’ behaviour changes, and mimics Mother Joan, as if she initiates and dictates their hysterical behaviour. In one memorable scene during the exorcism, she resists where the other nuns recoiled in terror, and lies on the ground, face down and arms out, which the other nuns replicate. Then Kawalerowicz delivers a stunning overhead shot of the nuns in this position, to the bemusement of the priests and townsfolk.

As methods of exorcism appear to have little effect upon restoring the convent to normal, Father Josef begins to doubt himself and appears to develop feelings of love for Mother Joan. His routine of self-flagellation becomes more intense and violent, combined with prayers of “God save my sinful soul”. A discussion with the local rabbi (played by the same actor) deduces that the nuns’ possession is the will of God, and that love is at the root of everything. He can only learn of demons by letting them enter his soul, and the rabbi thinks Josef’s ignorance has prevented his ability to save Mother Joan. Father Josef decides that Mother Joan can only be redeemed through love, not through exorcisms, and that her salvation can only be achieved through his absorption of her sins. By doing the bidding of the Devil, he believes he can ensure that Joan’s demons will not return. An earlier scene which showed Father Josef driving an axe into a stump of wood now becomes significant, as he uses this axe to commit two murders. Father Josef’s final words “Go and tell Joan I did it for her, for her own good. To save her. To keep the devil in me” confirm his self-sacrifice and damnation as a means of redeeming her. It is the ultimate act of devotion.

‘Mother Joan of the Angels’ is clearly inspired by the events of 1634 that were immortalised in Aldous Huxley’s ‘The Devils of Loudun’ (1952), though one can also sense echoes of Powell and Pressburger’s ‘Black Narcissus’ (1946), which also considered the consequences of repressed sexuality spilling over into madness. Kawalerowicz leaves it to us to consider whether the nuns were truly possessed by the Devil or whether their repressed sexuality ran amok and manifested itself in this collective hysteria, which later affects Father Josef. This pious and virtuous priest, unable to confront his sexual desires commits murder in the belief it might save Mother Joan. Kawalerowicz explained that this film was against dogma; that it is a love story about a man and a woman who wear church clothes, and whose religion does not allow them to love each other, and that the demons are a manifestation of their repressed love for each other. It is a convincing explanation of a film that leaves no obvious resolution or simple answers.

2 comments:

jowdjbrown said...

Low heating the layered biriyani is called dum biriyani. For heating, I use my oven and the matka which I use is a small earthen handi.mumbai matka

umar kk said...

Thus, it is sometimes considered a distinct category of frozen dairy-based dessert. Due to its density, Kulfi takes a longer time to melt than a regular ice-cream. Most popular flavor for Kulfi is Pistachio & nuts based. matka