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Although critics in my native Greece were very circumspect when valuing
this movie I disagree with them. Many found that it lacked grandiose
crowds in the battle and acclamation of the Pope scenes, but I think
that in reality medieval battles and the assembly of Roman plebeians
acclaiming the Pope must not have been particularly grandiose events
and that added a quality of realism to the movie.
Also the structure of the story, the equivalent of what Germans call Bildungsroman-that is the process of the development of character through life, was presented in a very able manner, showing the evolution of Joan, a simple but charismatic country girl, to supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church.
The love story subplot was also good adding romance to a tale that would have been dull otherwise and proving that even scholarly girls are not immune to the pleasures of the flesh.
I have to comment on the acting of Ms Wokalek, which I found admirable in the way that it portrayed the subdued power of the character of Joan under a facade of neutral manners and also the surprise role of John Goodman who played a larger than life exuberant and kindly Pope.
The evocation of the age was also excellent avoiding excesses, and presenting the mendacity of peasant life in the villages as well as the relative luxury of the ruling classes.
Of course the main point of the story concerned the barriers that gender and class posed to a talented poor woman during that dark age. I think the story has similarities with that of Joan of Ark. The final surprise, which I will not disclose, must have been a novelistic devise relative to modern concerns about the Church invented by the author of the novel on which the movie was based and not an integral part of the Pope Joan legend as preserved through the ages.
All in all a very able movie which I greatly enjoyed. It is a pity that the response of the Greek critics was at best lukewarm.
I went to see Pope Joan with a group of friends the day it was released
in Germany. Most of us had already read the book, but some had not. We
were all quite skeptical as to whether the movie would be true to the
book and whether it wasn't a little too long (two and a half hours
seemed a lot to us!). But, after having seen it, I must say it was one
of the most absorbing two-and-half-hours-movie I've ever seen. I didn't
have a look at my watch once.
The story is quite true to the book. I read the book at least 8 years ago, so I had forgotten most of it. However, when the plot evolved, my memory came back and I didn't notice any major deviances from the book, neither did my friends.
"Pope Joan" is just a classical historical movie and everyone who loves that genre, will most certainly enjoy the movie! It has everything you need: a charismatic heroine who challenges the role of women in her time; some good and wise clergymen (John Goodman is great fun as food-loving, jovial Pope!); some evil and brutal clergymen who want to spread Christianity violently; some scheming and intrigues; a good portion of war and battle scenes; a romantic love story and, last but not least that interesting question at the end that will certainly cause you to discuss with your friends and search wikipedia: Was there really a woman who became Pope?
It is for sure one of the best movies about ancient history and
educated women that I seen so far, what makes this unique is that Joan
strives to excel in religion and science.
She comes from a traditional middle-ages background where women are uneducated so she has to learn how to look and act like a man to be able to follow her passion, this creates a constant struggle to hide her true gender.
Her intelligent and strength in human character shines through the canvas and what she manages to accomplish in her lifetime was phenomenal!
This movie is about the indomitable spirit of many of our species
regardless of race or sex. It's not about liberal or conservative, it's
about right or wrong. Not about girl or boy, but about the abilities of
each of us to advance the human cause on this earth. It's not about
Buddist, Jew or Christian but about aleivating all the suffering we
can. Consider that for one month of the cost of the war in the middle
east, every human could have access to clean drinking water. Who knows
where the next Einstein or TuTu will come from, surely the potential
exists and needs a chance to show itself without the intolerance of
prejudice for one of a different color, sex or the distance from your
home they come. We have a duty to expand our knowledge and expose all
to the light of reason and in that we have no fear. This movie is a
gift to parents and adults that want to find the ways to help all.
Ignorance is not bliss, the scene about the mustard seed is worth the
price of this great movie. Allegory is when your teacher thanks you.
Thank you mother.
Wokalek and Flack are superb and a joy. John Goodman is like your pastor or priest and as amiable as I imagine JohnPaul II. Petherbridge as Aesculapius is exactly my image of Hesse's Magister Ludi and Wenham, a developing Chomsky, could of evolved into a Smedly Butler! For those in power this could be a great mini-series for all involved, IMHO. Villains don't get a mention, sry Iain and AT. m.
This legendary tale of a woman who briefly ascended to the papal throne
may be set in the ninth century, but its themes and its subject matter
is as relevant now as it was before. In fact, the German-made,
English-language "Pope Joan" arrives at a time when the Catholic Church
is once again facing calls to allow women to be ordained priests-
especially since in the wake of the recent paedophilia scandal in
Europe, some point the cause to the Church's insistence on a male,
Adapted from the bestseller by Donna Woolfolk Cross, the legend of Pope Joan goes that said woman posed as a man to enter the Benedictine monastery and rose to the favour of the previous pope due to her great intellect and learning. Yet after a reign of a few years, she gave birth to a baby during a papal procession and was torn apart by an angry mob. Whether this is fact or fiction is up to you to decide, though this adaptation which begins with a French bishop arriving in Rome to enter Joan's story in the papal archives wants you to believe its authenticity.
The bishop's dictation frames the flow of the movie, which attempts to chronicle the life of Joan right from the time of her difficult birth to a fundamentalist village priest (Iain Glen) and his Saxon wife (Joerdis Triebel) to the time of her death in front of the Roman crowds. Even from a young age, we learn that Joan possessed extraordinary wisdom and an insatiable crave for knowledge. So despite her misogynistic father's opposition to girls receiving any form of education, she picks up reading and writing and even Scripture itself.
These early years are presented with a bleakness and austerity that effectively, if manipulatively, gets the audience's sympathies firmly with Joan. As her father makes Joan watch him physically abuse her mother for not objecting to Joan's learning of Scripture, and then whips her severely for what he perceives as a grievous offence, it's hard not to root for the brilliant and bright Joan to break free from the chains of her father's misogyny.
But that liberation is not to come till much later, even as the chance visit of a religious teacher marks her initiation into the religious life. Together with her brother Johannes, Joan is sent to study under the bishop of Dorstadt where she meets Gerold (David Wenham), a knight whom the teenage Joan slowly falls in love with. After the invading Norse army ambushes their village while Gerold is away, Joan binds her breasts and trims her hair, beginning her impersonation as her brother Johannes by joining the Fulda Abbey.
Unfolding at a brisk pace, director Soenke Wortmann (of the German hit "The Miracle of Bern") deftly keeps the proceedings taut and the tension palpable, as Joan takes care to conceal her identity. When at the brink of being discovered, Joan journeys to Rome where she is first appointed as a physician to Pope Sergius (John Goodman) and slowly grows to become his personal adviser. After he is murdered by his own courtiers, Joan is chosen by the people of Rome as his successor, her election as Pope a carefully calculated sweet triumph for its audience.
Yet it's not nearly enough for Joan to be Pope, her chance meeting with Gerold igniting her feelings for him and their eventual coupling resulting in her pregnancy. This reviewer must admit first and foremost that this turn of events didn't sit with his personal convictions too well- not for the fact that Pope Joan was female, but for her blatant disregard of the Church's understanding of celibacy. Bearing in mind she was firstly ordained and secondly unwed, should Pope Joan have given in to her feelings and consummated with Gerold? Would such an intelligent woman have acted so callously with little regard of the inevitable consequences? Where art thou would she command any moral authority as the head of the Church? Of course, such is the controversial nature of the legend that has remained hugely debated over the years, but it is inevitable that some audiences will find the material troubling. Nonetheless, it isn't less of a film just because it has chosen to tackle a topic of such divisive nature. Rather, lead actress Johanna Wokalek anchors the movie with an emotionally rousing performance portraying Joan's steeliness and vulnerability in equal measure. Best known for her roles in Til Schweiger's Barfuss and Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex, Wokalek not only looks the part, but plays it with gusto and aplomb.
Yet it's easy to overlook Wokalek's brilliant acting in the film because of its subject matter which, as this reviewer has pointed out, remains as relevant today and therefore disputatious. It's best therefore that one approaches this with an open mind, and if necessary, a piece of fiction- for you will discover that this handsomely mounted historical epic is riveting and rousing from start to finish.
I'd vaguely heard of Pope Joan, but didn't know until looking her up this morning that she almost certainly didn't exist; I don't know if I would have watched the movie, knowing it was based on a novel I hadn't read. It was kind of slow-moving, and didn't have the lush costumes that are often my favorite part of historical movies, but it did have the most accurate portrayal I've ever seen of life in the middle ages. At the beginning of the movie I was surprised to see the title character's mother giving birth right in front of two other children, but then remembered that, just as people were conceived in full view of the household, they were born that way as well. As the movie went along, there was nothing missing but the smell! Several years of watching The Highlander didn't give me as graphic a view of what a beheading must actually look like as this movie did, and other details were just as they would have been. I'd recommend this movie most heartily to history majors and anyone who thinks the vanished past was glamorous.
The story is old. The details are spices of dusty legend. The tragedy of a Roman Church "accident" is chapter of many conspiracy books. But, behind that things, "Pope Joan" is a beautiful film. And this fact is important.For costumes and atmosphere, for extraordinary John Goodman and for the art of details, for the basic fact than the IX-th century is another XXI century, for the perfume of serenity and the force of a myth to be stronger than reality. For the feeling than Joan exist without any testimony. For the spring air and grass smell. For the art to destroy clichés. For remember of essential values of human circle and the end as fly of ash bird. For the warm impression . Historic movie, it is in fact a parable. Like many who sleeps in our memories.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even as a feminist, I could not stand a movie so ridiculously and
awkwardly narrated in a so-called feminist's perspective while all
other aspects are neglected. As if had Johanna been born a man, she
would have smoothly made her way to the chair of saint peter and become
the greatest pope of all time.
Johanna was first and foremost a human being, with flaws and limitations, facing obstacles far more complex than that of her female identity.(poverty being one) The men in this movie, were either female-friendly saints or unreasonable prejudiced beasts. No reason were given to why they were such, nor were there any transitions of any kind.
I know it is difficult to tell a biography story within two hours, but I still have to say it was not very well timed. Nor did give a good focus on Johanna's character. Yes she was a woman, she wanted to do good in the world, but that is applicable to millions of people in history. As a modern woman I wasn't even born so confident to believe that I am no less than a man, but our heroine was so genius that she didn't need to struggle a bit realize her strength. As a story about a pope, it is so superficial on religious matters that it didn't even bother to quote a few lines that we haven't heard of. no wonder there isn't any religious community seeking trouble about this movie---it's not even worth it.
This movie really won't serve as a good example of a feminism movie.
This film was released in 2009, I was surfing Youtube, and I
accidentally came upon the trailer. I love a historical drama, and I
know a little about Pope Joan, and I didn't understand how I missed
knowing about this film till now (2013) I suppose the promotion of
foreign language films in Ireland is not great. Anyway I got hold of
It started off a bit slow but still you could see that this was an intriguing story on its own. How could a woman become a Pope in one of the foremost matriarch hierarchical societies in the world. It was then and still is. So how could it ever have happened. Historical there are no details and there it is probably a myth rather then fact, but even the myth is compelling.
I watched the film and it was long but always interesting, any good piece on that period of humanity is. As "the life of man, is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" as Hobbes put it. Stories and the history of that age gives you a sense of count your blessings you live in this age. The film did have an agenda, as a reflection of the position of women in this age. I didn't mind that, Joan was forced to struggle and overcome the cultural limitations placed on her sex to express her natural humanity and intelligence, as millions of women still struggle with the same in this age. I would love to say things are wholely better in this age for women, but I know in parts of this modern world it is still very much the same. Women's march for equality is very far from over. So that seemed a natural agenda to push for a tale about a woman pope and why not? I would regard myself as a male feminist and the message still needs to be told.
The film was far from perfect, and it could have been a whole lot better, there were scenes that could have been added and omitted, but I still found myself recommending it to friends, and it was one of the best 2 or more hours in front of the tele for me this year. I still loved it to spite its obvious flaws. In the end you can't beat a good story whether that story is true or not.
So watch it and see do you agree with the 6.5 rating for this epic film in scope and tale. I think 6.5 is very unfair, I rate it 9/10.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Layered with historical facts, legends and fiction Pope Joan gives us
an insight of the dreadful condition peasant women endured in the Dark
Ages, where education for them was discouraged and even forbidden by
the reigning Church. Die Papstin, a fascinating story of a remarkable,
ambitious, intelligent and courageous poor woman from the 9th century,
whom the Catholic Church wants erased not only from the papal
chronicles but also from all historic documents that mentions her
Unwanted only because she was born female, at birth her father, the village priest, was disappointed and believed she was born out of " punishment from God, for my past sins" a common and foolish creed even in these days, when something dire happens to a believer.
Johanna von Ingelheim at birth, remarkably played by Johanna Wokalek, and latter becomes John Anglicus, a healer, a priest, a linguist, much loved by anyone around her, (by now him), even by then reigning Pope Sergius, played effortlessly by the great John Goodman. After a harsh and violent childhood and after her brother is killed in a Viking attack, she decided to go into the world as a boy, enrolling into a Benedictine monastery where she continues her studies and gains medical knowledge that ultimately gives her entry into the papal circles. The film is well directed, acted and full with lavish images and scenes from the very distant past of the Dark Ages, even if I personally had a problem with the ending; I think it was over dramatized. Nevertheless, I recommend it to all who are interested to know about this extraordinary human being, historical figure, or myth. We will never know for sure, but we know, there is no smoke without fire.
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