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Johanna (THR)

Johanna (THR)

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Kornel Mundruczo's "Johanna" is a astonishing coup de cinema. The Hungarian film is an expressionistic opera based on the legend of Joan of Arc and composed for the screen by Zsofia Taller. Mundruczo, who wrote the screenplay with Yvette Aranyi, transfers the story to a modern-day Budapest hospital. Here the heroine cures the sick by offering her body to them sexually, a practice that outrages the medical staff, the high priests of this particular institution. As crazy as all this sounds, it works brilliantly.
By Kirk Honeycutt

 

Kornel Mundruczo's "Johanna" is a astonishing coup de cinema. The Hungarian film is an expressionistic opera based on the legend of Joan of Arc and composed for the screen by Zsofia Taller. Mundruczo, who wrote the screenplay with Yvette Aranyi, transfers the story to a modern-day Budapest hospital. Here the heroine cures the sick by offering her body to them sexually, a practice that outrages the medical staff, the high priests of this particular institution. As crazy as all this sounds, it works brilliantly.

The movie is a gift to film festival programmers. It certainly makes a terrific companion piece to Mark Dornford-May's "Carmen in Khayelitsha," Bizet's famed opera set in a South African township, which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. "Johanna" should also command attention in art houses in North America and Europe.

Mundruczo begins the movie with what appears to be a catastrophic traffic accident in Budapest with a tumult of ambulances, emergency personnel and doctors trying to cope with badly hurt victims coming into the hospital. This turns out to be a training exercise, where locals have been hired to play patients.

One patient, Johanna (the extraordinary Orsi Toth), is a young morphine addict. She sneaks into a drug supply room and accidentally overdoses. She slips into a coma from which a handsome doctor (Zsolt Trill) miraculously brings her back from near death.

Completely recovered and reborn, Johanna's memory has been wiped clean. Since she knows of no relatives or friends, the doctor keeps her at the hospital to train as a nurse. She then discovers her unusual healing powers. (One minor problem here: We only see her heal men. How does she handle women and children?)

Doctors and nurses are infuriated. One nurse (Ildiko Cserna) calls her a whore. None is more upset that the doctor, who makes no secret of his love for Johanna.

After the opening sequences, Mundruczo confines his film to the hospital interiors, which three cinematographers shoot in garish institutional colors. The place feels like a prison run for the convenience of the staff.

The choreography of many actors and singers of all ages to the music is astonishingly precise. Taller's music is strong and muscular, bringing to the wretched hospital a powerful sense of nobility.

Toth delivers a memorable performance as Johanna, capturing the heroine's steely determination to do good and the unwavering devotion to her mission.

The film is a genuine discovery for the Festival de Cannes.

Proton Cinema/T.T. Filmmuhely/Thermidor Filmproduktion

May 19, 2005
The Hollywood Reporter
By Kirk Honeycutt

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com