Student Critic Lewis Johnston-Watt reviews short film Joanna (Aneta Kopacz, Poland, 2013)
Watching a selection of Polish films it was impossible not to be enamoured by Aneta Kopacz’s film Joanna, a 45 minute short which follows the relationship between a young woman and her son.
Intimately produced but never mawkish, this subtle portrait of cancer and everyday life is a heartrending marvel, and one of the most profound studies of life and loss to ever hit the screen. In a truly groundbreaking documentary between Kopacz and Joanna Salyga herself, this monument to inner strength and self-reliance is an astonishing cinematic achievement, capturing the final months of Joanna’s terminal condition with unrivalled access. Using unscripted footage that remains remarkably fresh and vivid, Kopacz has constructed a documentary that allows for a painfully close glimpse into family life without crossing into voyeurism, aided by Łukasz Żal’s evocative cinematography. Joanna’s son Jasio is a revelation, offering a sparky, uncensored point of view that perfectly matches his mother’s own. Their close bond is the core of the documentary and undoubtedly the most rewarding element of Kopacz’s narrative, underlining the latter’s essential focus in the film: love and living. Reflecting Salyga’s outlook as a mother, it is this thread which is the essential glue to Joanna, saving it from becoming merely a painful, bittersweet eulogy. Instead, Joanna is emotional, demanding and (yes) unbelievably poignant but above all it remains a celebration of life. A beautifully crafted story of love, Joanna is a high point in short film-making. Bravo.
Lewis Johnston-Watt is 22 and has just graduated with a degree in French from the University of St Andrews.