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Mother Joan of the Angels (1961)
"Matka Joanna od aniolów" (original title)

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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.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lucyna Winnicka ...
Mieczyslaw Voit ...
Father Jozef Suryn / Rabbi
Anna Ciepielewska ...
Sister Malgorzata / Margareth
Maria Chwalibóg ...
Antosia / Girl at the Inn
Kazimierz Fabisiak ...
Father Brym
Stanislaw Jasiukiewicz ...
Chrzaszczewski / Squire
Zygmunt Zintel ...
Wincenty Wolodkowicz / Innkeeper
Jerzy Kaczmarek ...
Franciszek Pieczka ...
Jaroslaw Kuszewski ...
Lech Wojciechowski ...
Marian Nosek ...
Dominican Priest
Jerzy Walden ...
Dominican Priest
Marian Nowak
Zygmunt Malawski ...


Set in the 17th century. A convent in a small town is being visited by high-ranking Catholic official trying to exorcise the nun supposedly posessed by demons. A local priest have been burnt for creating this condition by sexual temptation of the nuns, especially the Mother superior who bring on the collective hysteria of the group. There is another young priest who is to help with the exorcism. His first meeting with the convent head, Mother Joanne of the Angels, has her seemingly posessed by Satan - she yells blasphemies and incites the priest. She begs the priest to save her and to help her to be a saint. To help her, he kills two innocent people to be forever a prey of the devil and thus allow her freedom. Written by Polish Cinema Database <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Drama | Horror | Mystery


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Release Date:

9 February 1961 (Poland)  »

Also Known As:

Joan of the Angels?  »

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Did You Know?


Father Jozef Suryn: All redemption is in love. Love is as strong as death.
See more »


Featured in The Lesson of Polish Cinema (2002) See more »


Theme Music
Performed by the Polish Radio Choirs
Conducted by Tadeusz Dobrzanski
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User Reviews

MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1961) ***1/2
9 February 2007 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

This was a "Special Jury Prize" winner at the Cannes Film Festival in a year where the top winner, curiously enough, was another 'nun' picture

  • Luis Bunuel's controversial VIRIDIANA!

It deals with the famous 17th century incident of devil possession at Loudon - treated in several books and at least one more time on the screen, Ken Russell's notorious THE DEVILS (1971); for this reason, ever since I first watched the latter, MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS had been a sort of minor holy grail for me. Still, Kawalerowicz's approach couldn't be more different than Russell's hysterical campiness: while I admire the latter film, I seem to like it less with each viewing; this one, however, is a completely spellbinding character drama - not to mention a highly accomplished piece of film-making in its own right, with especially indelible visuals (somewhat reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman's medieval fables, namely THE SEVENTH SEAL [1957], THE MAGICIAN [1959] and THE VIRGIN SPRING [1960]): the starkness of its cinematography and sets (in contrast to the opulent exuberance of Russell's film) may also have influenced Andrei Tarkovsky's ANDREI RUBLEV (1966) - witness also the importance of the bells (as in the fantastic closing shot of them tolling silently, accompanied by the wailing nuns on the soundtrack).

Interestingly, when the film starts the possession and exorcism attempts are already well under way (in fact, the events of the film take place immediately after the licentious priest who was later to be the central male character of THE DEVILS, played by Oliver Reed, has been burned at the stake as a sorcerer, denounced by the possessed nuns themselves). Given the ten-year gap between the two films (which saw a considerable loosening in censorship), the scenes here of rampaging nuns are nowhere near as explicit as in Russell's film - especially since it mainly revolves around the figure of the Mother Superior (played by the director's own wife): her numerous possession scenes are very effective, however, with the first manifestation of evil being particularly unsettling and brilliantly handled. Young Sister Margaret (ostensibly the only one not possessed) does emerge a major secondary character: seduced by a visiting squire (who, as with virtually all the other civilians, is depicted as lusty and takes a voyeuristic interest in the events at the convent), she gives up her vows for him but he eventually abandons her!

This situation of 'impossible love' actually mirrors the more intense - yet repressed - central relationship between the the Mother Superior and the new priest (culminating in the scene where the Devil is literally passed from one body to the other); however, its aftermath differs strongly from the similar climactic incident in THE EXORCIST (1973): in a chilling sequence, to keep the demon from invading the woman again, here the priest goes on an irrational killing spree, finally telling Sister Margaret to inform the Mother Superior that he did it "out of love"! One of the most interesting sequences, too, is the one where the distraught Fr. Joseph seeks advise from a rabbi - an encounter which not only exposes the essential differences between the two faiths, but it's given an added touch of strangeness by having the same actor play both roles!

The issues with the print which had kept me from ordering this earlier were exaggerated by the screen captures I saw on DVD Beaver; while certainly imperfect, the picture quality doesn't severely affect one's viewing appreciation, or dampen in any way Second Run's efforts to bring such an important masterwork to a wider audience. While not as revered as Wajda or some of the other Polish film-makers, from the two Kawalerowicz films I've watched (the other being the historical epic PHAROAH [1966]), his talent is undeniable; I'd love to catch up with his NIGHT TRAIN (1959), which the liner notes on the DVD described as the director's best work, and also the Italian-made (and reportedly disastrous) MADDALENA (1971).

This was actually the first Second Run title I purchased: others I look forward to adding to my collection include THE RED AND THE WHITE (1967), THE CREMATOR (1968), THE EAR (1969), LOVE (1971) and the upcoming THE PARTY AND THE GUESTS (1966) and THE ROUND-UP (1966); I had intended to pick up KNIGHTS OF THE TEUTONIC ORDER (1960) and PASSENGER (1963) as well, but the DVD presentation of both is unfortunately compromised - the former has been censored by the BBFC for animal violence, while the latter's Aspect Ratio is incorrect.

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