"Johanna": Johanna of the Angels By Iulia Blaga

in 7th Tbilisi International Film Festival

by Iulia Blaga

She is blond, she is dressed in white, she is as thin as a willow, and she was weaving from afar at the 7th International Film Festival in Tbilisi. That’s right; Johanna, the Hungarian filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo’s long feature was screened in the International Competition, after participating in several festivals so far.

It’s obvious that Mundruczo is a brave guy. He is not afraid of big themes like saints, love and other demons. He has enough courage to use opera music as a firm structure for his provocative yet evanescent story. He is not afraid to do it especially after Lars Von Trier did it. But the fact is that his film is as much spectacular and moving as provocative.

From his previous short feature, Joan of Arc of the Night Bus, the filmmaker kept the idea of using the opera in a story about saints. Actually, there are just a few similarities between the short and the feature’s debut. But still, as soon as the characters are starting to sing, blurring all the possible references to the E.R. series, the viewer is captured by a sort of ‘frame in frame’ structure, reminding him of All That Jazz and of all the other movies which are using the music as a medium for something more dramatic and essential about life’s turning points.

The cinematography is extremely beautiful, and the camera is taking us in a sort of trip beyond the reality’s realms, deep down in the purgatory, that no man’s land where life and death are integrated. The story about the drug addict turned into a nurse and eventually in a whore-saint is firm and yet volatile, giving the filmmaker just enough script capable of being transformed into something more. As soon as the viewer is leaving the outdoors and enters, or more specifically descends in the hospital, the camera becomes a sort of fugitive witness. It sights slides of the hospital’s life in short flashes of light. It’s observing this immaterial everyday life of characters which seem to play in a second movie. The film always has this double side, this taste of false opera, like his meaning was merely the ‘mise en abime’ than telling a story. This enables Mundruczo to get along with all his literal and cinematographic references, and to build a multi-framed opera. A big cake with sad candles. Hopefully, the film also has an ironical side. It’s a little bit funny to hear the characters sing with enormous gravity something like: “Let’s take him to the urinary section.” It’s as if they were nodding at us: “It’s not real life, you should be aware.”

The cinematographers Andras Nagy and Matyas Erdely are extremely careful about the use of lights. As soon as Johanna begins his duties as a saint, her face becomes as full of light as Vermeer’s paintings. Full of light and more mysterious than before. Because being a whore and being a saint is here something you can’t separate, like all the opposite big themes. Beauty is very close to ugliness, the truth is something you can’t define without the notion of false, especially in this hospital where life is so close to death and incurable patients are suddenly cured by the sexual missionaries of a young woman who gives herself only to people who have lost any hope.