Friday, 27 March 2015

Fifty Shades of Gay

The other day I stumbled upon "Matka Joana of Aniołów" (or: Mother Joan of the Angels), a 1960 feature by Jerzy Kawalerowicz. The film recounts the story of a priest who is sent to a convent to purify the soul of Joan, the mother superior, who thinks that the devil has taken possession of her.

The photography is breath-taking, and so is the atmosphere.

With its black and white format and its religious theme, Matka Joana is also more than a little reminiscent of Paweł Pawlikowski's Ida. And which other films can you name where nuns lie face-down on the church floor? Another less obvious parallel is that Ida won the Oscar and Matka Joana the Prix Spécial du Jury at Cannes - are the Poles the world masters of quiet intense films about struggles with faith?

From Ida (2013)

Either way, Matka Joana takes the theme of temptationa and sin much further than Ida. And that is no coincidence, seeing that the film is based on a book by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz (1894 - 1980). The famous writer had a wife and children and grandchildren, but he was also one of the most notorious homosexuals in Poland (pre-WWI, in between the wars, and under the communist regime).

Iwaszkiewicz in 1914 - a bit of Gaspard Uliel, non?

A photograph taken by Iwaszkiewicz in 1921 that appeared in an album entitled "Dionysia"
"Memories from the heart, to Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. Jean Cocteau, Warsaw, October 1960" (just after the film was finished)

As with many other artists, Iwaszkiewicz's life has been much degayed by his biograhphers (the Iwaszkiewicz museum, the villa in which he lived most of his life, doesn't even hint at his sexuality). Thankfully, Krzysztof Tomasik's excellent book "Homobiografie" puts an end to the hypocrisy, and retraces the queer lives of some of Poland's most venerable writers, including Witold Gombrowicz.

But before the book gets translated into English or you learn Polish, check out Mother Joan of the Angels for a peek into Iwaszkiewicz's soul.

On YouTube with Spanish subtitles...

Mother Joan of the Angels, 1960, Full Film

...and in London as part of the Martin Scorsece Presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema series. Amen. 

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