Re. Witches (Good and Bad), a Second Look
It occurred to me yesterday after posting the piece on witches, just below, that Mike Olsen had also posted a piece that day on Facebook’s ON THE EDGE CINEMA on BELLADONNA OF SADNESS (see September 24), including links to such sites as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. To see for oneself, one may press here (though, warning, my glance through some of the Rotten Tomatoes reviews, including the professional ones, suggests to me that not enough attention may be being paid to the final few minutes of the film, especially in terms of its inspiration, Jules Michelet’s LA SORCIÈRE — but then that’s what this will be about). So then, my next thought, it seemed to me BELLADONNA OF SORROW could stand as an example of Sarah Gailey’s thesis of witches and power, for good, for bad, and possibly something new and more ambiguous: They outline a new narrative for witches — that they might use their powers not for Good, and not for Evil, but for Greatness. And they let us ask again the question we have always been asking of witches: with access to unlimited power, what might they become?
And so my thought: Consider the fate of Jeanne in BELLADONNA OF SADNESS as a sort of progress, where first she becomes the good witch. When the lord goes to war and most of the men of the village follow, she becomes a sort of protector of those that are left, a ruler of sorts of the townspeople filling the vacuum left by their missing leaders, and ruling the village benignly and well. Then, after the war as she seeks more power, she turns toward the evil — at the least as others might see her. True, in the case of the lord’s wife and her would-be lover, some critics have pointed out that Jeanne does no more than what she had been asked. But doesn’t that seem to be just an excuse? That is, even without its violent ending, what she had been asked was in itself evil in terms of the society of its day (and probably, really, in our times too).
But then, the “new narrative” is what happens after Jeanne is herself crucified — the passing of her spirit to the onlooking women, and this is the all-important ending, consistent as well to the movie’s nineteenth century French source. With the power of metaphorical witchcraft, “what might they become?”
In this case no less than the changers of their society from top to bottom through La Révolution.