Sabtu, 07 Mei 2011

Jerzy Kawalerowicz - Matka Joanna od aniolów AKA Mother Joan of the Angels (1961)

The film script is based on the famous story by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz. The action is set during the 18th century at a remote convent in the Smolenszczyzna region. The nuns together with their prioress Joanna, are possessed by demons and a young priest Suryn comes to exorcise the convent. However his measures of prayer and mortification do no have any effect and moreover, the priest begins to experience the weird atmosphere of anxiety which pervades the convent. He is torn by spiritual dilemmas and feels lost. He does not realize that his problems stem from a purely secular love towards prioress Joanna and when she pushes him to take a dramatic step, the priest decides to purge the woman, even at the price of mortal sin.

“Mother Joan of the Angels” – Where are wolves born? by Mariola Dopartowa

Mother Joan of the Angels must have been a real test for the authorities. Production began just before the issuance of secret guidelines of the Central Committee Secretariat in June 1960, programming the shape of Polish cinema for the whole decade. This does not imply a direct connection between the production of the movie and its completion; the bureaucratic machine governing cinematography was slow to react to change and in the first years of the new decade, many projects slipped through the net. Only in a few cases did the authorities brutally intervene in the original project; it happened, for example, in the case of Andrzej Munk’s Passenger, which needed to be adjusted to the developing anti-German policy. Not accidentally, the decade was opened by the super production Knights of the Teutonic Order. An even more important aspect in the 1960’s was taking a distinctive stand on fighting anticlericalism, and promoting atheistic existentialism while pricking representatives of the clergy with media and bureaucratic pins.

Mother Joan of the Angels (1961) had already been cast as an anti-Church work in the production stage and there is no reason to hide that fact that director Jerzy Kawalerowicz contributed to preserving this stereotype. In the Polish People’s Republic, under the pretext of objectivity, critics could describe the movie as they wished, which also appealed to the director. When the opinions were encouraging, he could help them become “more or less” true. The movies were produced from the same pool of money that paid the critics. Writing that something is “good” or “wrong” not only served to build a façade of democracy and creative freedom. It also modified the ideological line to suggest the shape of the culture depended on the conclusions drawn from earlier experiences, and not on the whims and strategies of politicians in the Kremlin.

Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz, who at the time was avoiding political extremes, was worried about the anti-Church, anticlerical and anti-Christian message of the film. The Gnostic significance of the short story that was the basis for the screenplay by Tadeusz Konwicki and Kawalerowicz penetrated to the heart of the movie. But the screenplay shifted the accent to subjects other than the futile sacrifice of life and soul – a topic both Iwaszkiewicz and the authorities had found intriguing in the 1940’s. The short story ambiguously followed the new ideological line of socialist Poland, but by the 1960’s there were other goals. For example in the film adaptation, we deal with highly advanced historic convention. This is completely different from Iwaszkiewicz’s story, which uses a 17th century background to create a parable. The crisis of faith and the undermining of Christian culture remain the heart of the story. The world in the film is not the Christian world, and both religion and clerical life are treated conventionally; in this version of reality its destruction took place earlier, although not everybody wanted to admit it. We can see the destruction of the whole human world shown with unparalleled consequence and depth. Nothing suggests that Kawalerowicz is affected by this vision; the question about the moment when the man becomes the cause of his own death lingers in the background, and the suggested answers go far beyond the coarse stereotypes common in postwar Europe.

The film replaces the “Young Poland” picture of the world with an existential landscape drawn in high-contrast black and white, in a brave, avant-garde form that is expressively contrasted in the frames but is not a simplified symbol of good or evil. The only certainty is that evil does not hide behind blackness, darkness, or dirt. Via such contrasts, the adaptation of a fictional story of demonic possession of nuns from a convent in Ludyn reveals strong romantic traits. As in Ballads and Romances, evil often uses the accessories of white, light, and purity as well as the signs and symbols of innocence. Man created a perfidious world in which the border between good and evil can be maintained only from inside; after crossing the invisible line, thus breaking traditional ties, a kaleidoscope of images appears before his eyes. The New Testaments says it clearly: whatsoever thing from without entereth into a man, it cannot defile him.

The film’s Romantic message did not undermine the biblical truth but did warn against the ambiguous nature of the modern world. This message says: when a man ceases to foster the purity of traditional symbols that prevail in his world of values and uses them instead to gain advantage, seek pleasure or to hide his guilt, they become a dangerous illusion that leads to self-destruction and death. One of the reasons the Polish People’s Republic cultural establishment fought Romantic ideas was that very message. At least at this point, the voice of Romantic tradition merged with the learning of the post-war Church. But the Polish People’s Republic did not need to arrange the values: it could last only as the system of power, a specific form of political system, if, before the eyes of its citizens, the mirages from which all meaning had evaporated moved faster and faster.

The other, very important aspect of the movie is described by Sewern Kusmierczyk in a beautiful essay about the feeling of constructiveness, or lack of space: “The prevalence of medium and close takes makes the physical, bodily presence felt almost on the principle of synesthesia,” or evoking so-called cross-sensory references and symbols. The world in which traditional symbols do not mark the boundaries of the established order disappears and again becomes a place of expulsion. People feel their living space has shrunk, as if they suddenly grew up among children’s toys. The empty signs that replaced the great symbols terrify, inflict depression; man begins to suspect that he is cursed, that the world talks to him in a mysterious language that only he can understand. Are those the symptoms of madness? Not necessarily: it is rather the universal path of a man who does not feel he truly belongs anywhere. He bases his identity on outside symbols linking him with a given social, professional or other type of group.

The film is arranged so that its various components (from the composition of takes to the structure of the scenes and sequences) always hold centre space between the symbolic territory of the Jewish and Christian cultures (rabbi’s house – presbytery; cloister – inn, etc.). The way the theme of torn identity is carried out reveals the great artistic and intellectual format of this production. At the same time, Kawalerowicz included in the film his sophisticated anticlerical obsessions, and treated their use as a tribute to the fact that this kind of film could be made at all.

Seweryn Kusmierczyk notices that the central space (between the rabbi’s house and the presbytery) is like a desert. In the centre we can see the stake at which Father Garniec was burnt. Children imitating wolves are playing strangely and disturbingly. A large sun is visible high in the sky (the movie was filmed in summer and autumn), yet the protagonists are wearing sheepskin coats. In the Polish People’s Republic, the narrow-minded people under the power of the clergy were usually shown in sheepskins as the universal symbol of past times.

The desert-like fertile central zone, which is the birthplace and home of the “wolves” or kidnappers, brings to mind the remarks on identity by Stanislaw Brzozowski, one of the spiritual masters of the artistic-intellectual group around Kawalerowicz. The author of The Flames writes that rejection of the idea of self changes all reality into quicksand. The war generation expanded the limits of their world by expanding the spiritual space as well, by going out into the world. Kawalerowicz achieves an unusual artistic effect: he depicts space shrinking to a single point (indicated by the stake of the burnt priest), which envelopes the people living in the dreary desert in a dark fatalism.

There is a simple equation in the movie: the more space shrinks, the more a man believes he can expand his role of saving other people, by approaching them under false pretences (with a mission, a message, a perfect solution for their problems). Then man loses his ability to be with others: accompanying them, sharing their fate, standing in silent witness – the cornerstones of identity. In such moments, the religious faith and love of the other man changes into an ideology of gloomy fatalism. The desperate attempt to life the differences, to defeat unjust divisions and injuries (inflicted from fate, other people or God), annihilates what should be rewarded. Here we deal with one of the most insightful analyses of the fatalistic awareness in Polish art in the second half of the 20th century. It is the tragedy of a man who, not having built his subjectivity, loses the ability to make any decisions of act on them.

The superb acting contributed significantly to the high artistic value of the movie, from the leading roles (Lucyna Winnicka, Mieczyslaw Voit) to the smallest parts. The advanced pregnancy of the actress playing the role of the possessed mother was hidden under a loose habit. Without her characterization, Mother Joan of the Angels would be a completely different movie. Winnicka infuses her character with an unusual desire to penetrate life and its mysteries with something that transforms ordinary vitality, compressed by the convent walls into a demonic need to absorb and subordinate other people’s lives. In this way, the movie becomes a story of the dark aspects of power, about hypnotising and manipulation. Analogically, her partner covers his inability to live, his fear of life, his lack of faith that his life is meaningful, with an ideology based on giving himself to others, for which religion is only a kind of alibi. Thus, we have a horrifying picture of the birth of pagan fanaticism in an ordinary, decent and religious man. From this moment on, even the affection he starts to feel towards the nun is gradually transformed into a tool to tame evil forces.

These are only some of the most important questions raised by the film. It was unfortunate that the movie often induced commentators to make a false choice between demasking Kawalerowicz as a cranky anticlerical and duplicating the pseudo-existential slang of the film critics in the Polish People’s Republic. Yet we deal here not only with this director’s best movie but also with one of the most interesting artistic manifestations in the second half of the 20th century. We do not know to what extent its creator controlled that process. But without a doubt, this movie is rare proof that art overcomes ideology and that in the creative act, the anti-Church and anti-religious “winks” to viewers, film collaborators, censorship – and maybe to the director itself – disappeared. Joan of the Angels.avi Joan of the Angels.sub Joan of the Angels.idx Joan of the Angels.part1.rar Joan of the Angels.part2.rar Joan of the Angels.part3.rar Joan of the Angels.part4.rar Joan of the Angels.part5.rar Joan of the Angels.part6.rar Joan of the Angels.part7.rar

Language:Polish, Latin
Subtitles: English, French, German, Polish, Russian sub/idx
thanks to Urszula

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