Mother Joan of the Angels

Mother Joan of the Angels (Polish: Matka Joanna od Aniołów, also known as The Devil and the Nun) is a 1961 horror film on demonic possession, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, based on a novella of the same title by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz loosely based on the 17th century Loudun possessions. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival.[1]

Mother Joan of the Angels
Mother Joan of the Angels FilmPoster.jpeg
Directed byJerzy Kawalerowicz
Written byJerzy Kawalerowicz
Tadeusz Konwicki
Music byAdam Walaciński
CinematographyJerzy Wójcik
Edited byWiesława Otocka
Release date
  • May 1961 (1961-05) (Cannes)
  • February 9, 1961 (1961-02-09) (Poland)
  • May 7, 1962 (1962-05-07) (United States)
Running time
105 minutes

This film is found in the "nunsploitation subgenre, a global phenomenon that found expression inside the old Communist Bloc", a film with much "subversive potential".[2]


The story takes place in and around a seventeenth century Polish convent. A priest, Father Józef Suryn (Mieczyslaw Voit), arrives at a small inn for a night's rest. He has been sent to investigate a case of demonic possession at the nearby convent after the local priest, Father Garniec, was burnt at the stake for sexually tempting the nuns. The next day, Father Suryn sets out for the convent, where he meets the abbess, Mother Joan (Lucyna Winnicka), said to be the most possessed of all the nuns. Already four priests before Father Suryn have tried to exorcise Mother Joan, but without success. The villagers at the inn are curious about the convent's troubled past and do everything to keep track of its developing story, with the stableman, Kaziuk (Jerzy Kaczmarek), leading Father Suryn around and asking the only non-possessed nun Sister Malgorzata (Anna Ciepielewska) for stories when she makes her nightly visits to the inn.

After Father Suryn learns that Mother Joan is possessed by eight demons, he and several other priests, during an exorcism, manage to exorcise the abbess. She and the other nuns appear cured. Soon after, however, the demonic possession increases. Mother Joan tries to seduce Father Suryn, begging him to make her a saint. In the meantime Sister Malgorzata leaves the convent and becomes Margareth after falling in love with Chrząszczewski (Stanisław Jasiukiewicz), a squire who visits the inn.

After a failed meeting takes place between Father Suryn and the local rabbi (also played by Voit), the priest re-enters the convent and receives Mother Joan's demons through his love for her. At night, reasoning that the only way to save the abbess is by doing Satan's bidding, Father Suryn grabs an axe and kills Kaziuk and Juraj, another stableman. The next morning, Margareth is abandoned by the squire, and finds Father Suryn holding the bloodied axe. The priest instructs her to go to Mother Joan and tell her of the sacrifice he made for her salvation in the name of love. Margareth runs back to the convent and cries with Mother Joan, neither saying a word.



This film is very loosely based on the real life outbreak of mass hysteria in the French town of Loudun in 1634 that occurred when a convent of Ursuline nuns, led by the hunchbacked Sister Jeanne of the Angels, became obsessed with a handsome, womanising priest, Urbain Grandier. When Grandier turned down the nun's invitation to become their spiritual director, Jeanne, in a jealous rage, accused Grandier of using black magic to seduce her and her sisters and possess them with devils. Grandier's enemies, including Cardinal Richelieu, used the accusation as an excuse to have him found guilty of witchcraft and executed.

Unlike Ken Russell's The Devils (1971), which depicts Grandier's trial and death, Mother Joan of the Angels instead depicts the events after his death. The nuns continued to be possessed for four years after his death, and further exorcisms were carried out by the sincere and deeply spiritual Father Joseph Suryn whose main concern was helping Sister Jeanne.

Critical receptionEdit

The film was recommended by Philip Jenkinson in the Radio Times. The film is among 21 digitally restored classic Polish films chosen for Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema.[3]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Mother Joan of the Angels". Retrieved 2009-02-21.
  2. ^ "MOTHER JOAN OF THE ANGELS (Matka Joanna od Aniolow, 1961)". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  3. ^ "Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema". Retrieved 2015-06-07.

External linksEdit