This movie is based on the medieval legend of Pope Joan, who was made Pope for a brief period around 855 A.D. Although it is questionable that Pope Joan really did exist, this movie presents her existence as fact, and portrays her relationships with other notables of the time. Written by
The early 1970's was my favourite period in recent cinema history, classics such as Kubrick's Clockwork Orange, Skolimowsky's Deep End and Visconti's Death in Venice abound; but there are some, less than ringing endorsements of the era, this half-forgotten movie being one.
Liv Ullman, the embodiment of Scandinavian sang-froid, the epitome of ephemeral solemnity, plays Joan, a pious and youthful nun, who travels from a medieval convent, burnt down by Saxons, raping and pillaging, as if they misconstrued it for a set on a Ken Russell film, to Rome where disguised as a (rather attractive) young man, she wins her spurs, becomes a cardinal and eventually the first - and possibly last - female pope.
The trouble is, although Liv's performance is full of meaning and her fights against the alleged sin of lust, particularly enthralling, the editing, jumpiness and preposterousness of some scenes, leave an anxious viewer in need of redemption elsewhere.
True, it is interesting to see actors of the time - Lesley Anne Down, Maximillian Schell, Trevor Howard and Olivia de Havilland - giving robust performances, but a sandwich with an attractive filling is hardly worth eating if the bread is stale. And this is a stale mish mash, which ultimately fails to satisfy. It is a shame. The theme is interesting, whether the story is true or not. Given the current arguments amongst many religions on the role of women, it has significance for us in the 21st Century.
The scenery around Brasov, Romania, where it was filmed, which I visited post Ceausescu, is exemplary. Mind you, maybe the reason for the film's disjointed nature is just that - that the dictator, in his first flush of dictatorial youth, was in charge of production. There again, maybe Ceausescu was a woman. Now that would be a tale worth telling...
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