Originally published on the Edinburgh International Film Festival website
In just 40 minutes, Aneta Kopacz Oscar-nominated short documentary Joanna offers its audience an intimate insight into the family life of the terminally-ill Joanna Sałyga with beautiful but overwhelmingly emotional results. Joanna is devastated by her illness but she copes with it by spending as much time as she can with her bright eight-year-old son Janek, whose humour and intelligence reinforces the positivity of the film’s uplifting perspective.
Following the final few months of Joanna’s life, the film is structured by a montage of precious moments shared with her son, which is filmed in a vérité style to create a sense of authenticity in the film. These instances are occasionally interrupted by intimate scenes between Joanna and her husband, a calm and patient presence, which adds to the warm embrace of the film. Cinematographer Lukasz Zal’s enhances this montage and makes each scene look like a photo from a family album.
Neither Joanna or her family ever address the camera (they are not interviewed by Kopacz) meaning that until the in-memoriam section of the closing credits, it is easy to mistake Joanna as a fictional film. Instead, Kopacz captures authentic, personal memories, making the audience feel part of them. Unexpectedly, instead of the film ending with Joanna’s inevitable death, it ends with Joanna watching her son cycle off into the distance. By concluding with this final emotional memory, Joanna celebrates life, not death, reminding us all to cherish the time we have left with our loved ones.