REVIEW: Joanna [2014]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 40 minutes | Release Date: 2014 (Poland)
Director(s): Aneta Kopacz
Writer(s): Aneta Kopacz & Tomasz Sredniawa

“I may be lying but I’m still dancing”

If I was diagnosed with terminal cancer and told I had three months to live, I’m not sure I’d think to blog about it. But that’s exactly what Joanna Sałyga decided to do, putting her thoughts on life, death, love, and loss out into the world so others sharing in her grief could stop feeling alone and so she could have a venue with which to tell her husband Piotr and son Jan Wenda everything she could ever think to say. She’s become an icon to many through her ability to stare darkness in the face and find purpose in her tragic ordeal. Some would simply give up and bide their time until those ninety days were over. Joanna sought to live them as well as she could with the two people she loved the most.

She is the subject of Aneta Kopacz‘s documentary short Joanna, a companion piece to the blog that immortalizes her strength in sorrow. Depicting the good days and bad, we watch as Joanna writes for Jan, deals with the pain of treatment, and remains a vigilant mother by not allowing her son to talk her into eating McDonald’s. Kopacz captures the often-brave face staring at her men with joy and optimism until the weight of their situation can only leave her in tears at the thought they will soon be alone. Piotr does his best to be present, hold her, and provide a silent rock in body, mind, and spirit. The precocious Jan shares adoration while also testing her boundaries—overly mature yet still a boy about to lose the person who makes him happiest in the whole world.

There’s a subtlety of tone throughout as sequences live through quiet emotion while other showcase the unique relationship this family possessed to enjoy fun despite their circumstances. It’s very much a love letter, more visceral in its scope than the thoughtful words Joanna has written, but surely more potent as well. The film provides Piotr and Jan a living document of the wife/mother who wouldn’t be defeated, who wouldn’t surrender, and who loved them with every fiber of her being. I therefore couldn’t help smiling at the end, knowing what a treasure this poignant portrait of grace supplies. Yes it is devastating and yes it is extremely sad, but it’s also a testament to Joanna and Kopacz’s handling of the material that the final piece ultimately proves a heartwarming document of the simple pleasures we take for granted.

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