Film directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, released in 1960. Winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1961. When a prioress, Mother Joan, and other nuns are possessed by demons in a monastery in east Poland in the18th century, the authorities send Father Suryn to perform an exorcism.
A violent love affair erupts between Suryn and Mother Joan to which neither wants, is able or in a position to admit. Indeed, Father Suryn calls it a possession. A tsadik whom he asks for help tells him that love is at the bottom of everything. In a bid to free the nuns from the daemons, Suryn gives them his soul - he kills two farm hands, thus condemning himself to eternal damnation.
The film is a Jerzy Kawalerowicz's adaptation of Iwaszkiewicz's short story of the same title, delving into the European them of the 'devils of Loudun'. Set in the Polish provinces, it strays from the social and political aspects of the romance between a priest and a nun and instead looks at the human, existential aspects set against the ideological boundaries of society and the authorities. The director talked about his perspective on the story in an interview with Ray Privette of Kinoeye,
Matka Joanna od aniołów is a film against dogma. That is the universal message of the film. 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. They often talk about and teach about love—how to love God, how to love each other—and yet they cannot have the love of a man and a woman because of their religion. This dogma is itself inhuman. The devils that possess these characters are the external manifestations of their repressed love. The devils are like sins, opposite to their human nature. It is like the devils give the man and woman an excuse for their human love. Because of that excuse, they are able to love.
Critic Konrad Eberhardt wrote about the director's style in the Film weekly in 1996, "The moonscape of Mother Joan of the Angels, the austere convent architecture, the white walls obsessively enclosing the characters (...) create a vision of a world made up of a huge number of road signs which have to be deciphered".
Bolesław Michałek wrote about the film in Nowa Kultura in 1961,
Kawalerowicz's film touches on the embarrassing side of the human psyche - the self-suppressed impulse to rebel against the cares of everyday life and stiff rules. 'Matka Joanna od Aniołów' is a wonderful, Renaissance-like gesture of opposition, one that moves imagination, conscience, and intellect.
Alicja Helman wrote in Film in 1974
The insane nun and her exorcist know nothing about their true natures, being aware only of the antinomy of sanctity and sin. She experiences her totally secular rebellion as an instance of possession, he achieves a self-awareness of own emotions only to condemn himself to eternal damnation by committing a crime which is to save her. Despite the monastic setting and costume worn by the characters, 'Matka Joanna od Aniolow' does not address religious problems and is not a polemic with Catholicism or fideism. What interests Kawalerowicz are the perennial issues of man versus ban, human nature versus voluntarily accepted or imposed restrictions, the individual versus the collective. The time and place of the plot as well as historical costume were in fact chosen to underline their secondary importance and arbitrariness; the setting was selected for its artistic and symbolic relevance. The story unfolds in a landscape which the critics have termed 'moonlike', during an unspecified season of the year and time of the day - 'never' and 'nowhere', that is always and everywhere in a metaphysical sense. For 'Matka Joanna od Aniolow' is a film about man's perennial drama".
- Matka Joanna od Aniołów / Mother Joan of the Angels. Poland, 1960. Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, screenplay by Tadeusz Konwicki and Jerzy Kawalerowicz, based on short story by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, director of photography: Jerzy Wójcik, music by Adam Walaciński. Production design by Roman Mann, Tadeusz Wybult, Zdzisław Kielanowski. Featuring: Lucyna Winnicka (Mother Joan), Mieczysław Voit (Father Suryn, zaddik), Anna Ciepielewska (Małgorzata), Zygmunt Zintel (Wołodkowicz), Kazimierz Fabisiak (Father Brym), Franciszek Pieczka (Odryn), Stanisław Jasiukiewicz (Chrząszczewski), Maria Chwalibóg (Antosia), Jarosław Kuszewski (Juraj). Produced by: Zespół KADR - WFF Łódź 1960. Black and White, 35 mm, 2996 m, 110'.
In May 2012 the film was rereleased as a HD DVD with English subtitles by Second Run and available on Amazon.com.
- Palme d'Argent - Special Jury Award for Jerzy Kawalerowicz at Cannes IFF, 1961
- Crystal Star of the French Film Academy for Lucyna Winnicka, 1961
- Syrenka Warszawska / Warsaw Mermaid - Polish Journalists Association's Film CriticsAward for Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1961
- Mention of the Film Commission of the Protestant Church of the Netherlands
- Young Critics Award for Jerzy Kawalerowicz at Oberhausen IFF, 1963
- Brazylian Journalists Association Award
- Film Critics Award for Lucyna Winnicka, Anna Ciepielewska and Zygmunt Zintel at Panama IFF, 1966