Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz and inspired by the (presumably) real case of the "Loudun Possessions", the story of "Mother Joan of the Angels" is set on the seventeenth century, in a small village in Poland. There, a priest known as Jozef Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit ) is sent to a convent, to help a group of nuns, who have been suffering from demonic possessions, especially Mother Joan (Lucyna Winnicka). As soon as Jozef meets Mother Joan, she threatens him with her diabolic voice and tells him that it won't be easy to cast the demons away and that she's not afraid of him. From that moment on, Father Jozef finds himself fighting and struggling to help the poor Mother Joan and cast the evil forces away.
This films offers the classic "good vs. evil" battle, by showing common places, such as the evil woman and the courageous man who fights against all odds, risking his own life, because he's so kind-hearted that he feels compelled to save the ill-fated woman. These archetypes are mostly shown in the two main characters (Jozef and Mother Joan), although these two are not the only ones. The rest of the nuns, for example, look eerie and unsettling throughout most of the film. There's something strangely disturbing about the nuns in this film, something about the way they move and the look in their eyes, which combines numbness and malevolence at the same time.
"Mother Joan of the Angels" is a film that probably doesn't have much of a scare value compared to the newer films, but I would like to think that anyone who has a little bit of patience and doesn't expect gore and explicit violence, will be able to appreciate it for what it is. This type of horror is not for everybody but there's a lot of things that make this film very dark and powerful. While the new audiences would probably disagree with me, I think this film is not as slow-paced as it looks, judging by the first minutes. As I mentioned before, the key is to have a little patience, allow the character development, until reaching the well-awaited climax.
Visually speaking, "Mother Joan of the Angels" is pretty much flawless. Thought there aren't any amazing special effects, the shots, the setting and the contrasting photography create a very dark atmosphere, which is reminiscent of a dream-like sequence. There's something strange about this film: on the one hand, it is unsettling and dark, but there's also something very soothing about it. I'm not sure if it's the beautiful landscapes, the fact that it is black and white, the long philosophical dialogs or maybe all of those things combined.
The acting is mostly perfect, especially the main actress, Lucyna Winnicka, who manages to convey the poor innocent woman and the evil woman at the same time, without looking campy. Her expressions, her body language, her voice and the way she moves is impressive. I am not easily scared, but I will say that I was very impressed with the scenes involving "evil" Mother Joan. As for the male lead, there's really nothing to complain, as he delivers a perfectly believable character, but simply not as memorable as his female counterpart. As a matter of fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how good were most of the actors, as I was expecting something overly histrionic and more campy.