Mother Joan of the Angels

Released in 1960, this hair-raising tale of demonic possession from Polish director Jerzy Kawalerowicz (Night Train) must have been a significant influence on his countryman Roman Polanski when the latter made Rosemary’s Baby in the U.S. eight years later. A pious young cleric travels to a vast walled convent in the mountains to take charge after the title character, a magisterial mother superior, has become physical host to eight demons and turned her novitiates toward evil. The movie is steeped in the rites of the Catholic Church but obsessed with feminine power (at one point Kawalerowicz suggests that Joan has left a handprint on the wall in her own menstrual blood). Mother Joan of the Angels may be most noteworthy now as a case study in paranoid Catholic patriarchy; significantly, the Polanski film would reverse this polarity with its story of a young woman threatened by her husband’s embrace of the black arts. In Polish with subtitles.