In a Hungarian hospital Johanna uses the opportunity of a
major accident exercise to pilfer drugs for her addiction.
Falling into a coma, she is saved from certain death. On her
recovery Johanna trains as a nurse only to discover that her
recent brush with death has left her with the power to heal
her patients, with the use of her own body. Whilst they cannot
deny her ability, the establishment is uneasy with the introduction
of mysticism in a scientific environment and brand her a whore.
With the help of her patients Joanne is heading for a clash
with the ethos of the hospital and modern medicine...
Johanna (2005) was directed by Kornel Mundruczo, who co-wrote
it with Yvette Biro. The film won two Hungarian film awards
for Orsolya Toth, for best actress, and one for Mundruczo,
for best director. It is an opera, in Hungarian, which re-imagines
the tale of Joan of Arc for the modern cinema.
If you purchased Cristi Puiu's The
Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005), then visually
and stylistically, you're going to find yourself in familiar
territory. Like Lazarescu, Johanna is set in
the surrealistic nightmare that is the Hungarian health care
system. Can't say that these films do any favours for the
Hungarian tourist board as it depicts the wards as little
better than that of an impoverished third world country.
As an opera, I have to hold my hand up and admit that I'm
not the greatest opera buff there is. I like opera, on the
basis of I like what I like, so what did I make of Johanna?
Personally my tastes run to Philip Glass for something modern,
Amadeus Mozart, Giacomo Puccini and Georges Bizet for a bit
of the old time stuff, which accounts for why I so enjoyed
the South African version of Carmen, U-Carmen
leans much more towards Wagner's Der Ring Nibelungen atonality,
which on the one hand compliments the nihilism which pervades
the story but makes for a difficult watch. This is a film
that your either going to love or hate.
The film comes with stereo, 5.1 and DTS options and as you
can imagine for something that contains singing all the way
through, the DTS version does the film the most justice. That
said, stereo works just fine - you loose a bit of the clarity,
but the makers have failed to use the dynamic options inherent
in DTS to its full potential, leaving a rather even soundscape.
The film has only the original theatrical trailer as an extra.
the films anamorphic widescreen presentation is deliberately
grainy, presumably to add to its overall ambience, and it's
green, unremittingly green, which to be honest gets a bit
tiring after a while. Although this is a deliberate choice,
presumably to enhance the nightmare feeling of the movie,
more changes in lighting would have helped to create different
Although this is a film which is difficult to categorise,
it is ultimately a brave experimental piece, which has more
in common with German expressionist cinema than anything else.
The one thing I did think was really missing was any memorable
arias, there's nothing like La Donna E Mobile or Nessan
Dorma to stick in your head long after the film is over.