Although his criminal record prevents him from applying to a seminary, Daniel has no intention of giving up his dream and decides to minister to a small-town parish in this uplifting tale. Best Foreign Feature Oscar nominee 2020.
Often moving but also disquieting and even intermittently funny, this drama unfurls a spiritual parable that is uniquely Polish but accessible to all.
Bartosz Bielenia, an actor with burning blue eyes and an ability to be so still it’s as if he can freeze the frame by himself, stars as Daniel, a young ne’er do well from Warsaw who, for crimes only later revealed, is in juvenile detention.
He’s first seen watching the door as some teens brutalise a boy in a metalwork class while the guard is out, but sheer luck opens another door for him. Drawn to religion but not allowed to join a seminary because of his criminal record, he travels to a rural town once he’s paroled to take up work in a sawmill. A little grey lie lets him take the identity of the young new priest, Tomasz, that the town is expecting, and soon Daniel is performing mass and hearing confessions while the older resident curate dries out in rehab for a while.
Around this midpoint, as Daniel/Tomasz gets used to being looked after in plush new digs by bossy matron Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna) and gets to know the townsfolk, the film risks feeling like an episode of Father Ted as directed by Robert Bresson.
The plot takes an interesting turn when Daniel learns that a tragic road accident has traumatised the community, and he discovers an unexpected skill at pastoral care as he tries to help heal the damaged psyches of the bereaved – many of them barely younger than himself, including Lidia’s pretty teenage daughter, Eliza (Eliza Rycembel).
All the aforementioned might lead you to expect some kind of soppy redemptive trajectory, but that’s not where this film goes in the end, landing instead on a much bleaker, thoughtful note. Piotr Sobociński’s blue-toned cinematography enhances the rapturous air and enhances a smartly written, unsettling work of realism.
Leslie Felperin, The Guardian, 17 Oct 2019.
What is true faith and what’s fakery is a question that runs through Polish director Jan Komasa’s slow-burn drama Corpus Christi, its dark intensity channeled in a dynamically physical, wild-eyed performance from talented young lead Bartosz Bielenia. Themes of salvation and sacrifice, damnation, retribution and redemption will make this too Catholic for some art house tastes, and the overlong film becomes draggy and lugubrious in patches. But there’s visual command and a compelling intimacy to the storytelling, plus intellectual engagement in the reflection on who gets to claim nearness to God.
Inspired by true events and written by Mateusz Pacewicz, the movie opens with an arresting jolt of brutality as one of the inmates in a juvenile detention facility gets roughed up when the supervisor steps away in a carpentry workshop. The hollow gaze of 20-year-old Daniel (Bielenia) as he keeps watch suggests he’s inured to that kind of violence. But in the next scene’s religious service he leads the group singing Psalm 23 — “The Lord Is my shepherd” — in what appears to be a legitimate state of grace.
Discussing his imminent release with the prison priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat), Daniel suggests he has found a religious vocation. But the cleric tells him a criminal record rules out the priesthood, encouraging him to settle for the sawmill job he has secured for him in a remote spot on the other side of the country. Further evidence arises that Daniel, whose violent offense has made him a target for retaliation, is not typical man-of-the-cloth material; he parties hard at a club with his druggy buddies and works off his sexual tension in some slam-bang action with a female student.
One look at the sawmill and the likelihood of running into enemies there from his time inside makes him walk away from the job arrangement and into the nearby small town. In an impulsive lie backed by the clerical collar he swiped, Daniel convinces a young local, Marta (Eliza Rycembel), and her embittered mother, Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who serves as the sacristy caretaker, that he is a recently ordained priest from Warsaw. Before long, he has been presented to the elderly vicar (Zdislaw Wardejn), whose poor health requires him to take a break, persuading Daniel to fill in for him.
Nervous at first, Daniel starts by parroting prayers he learned from Father Tomasz, brushing up on Bible passages and looking up Holy Confession protocol on his smartphone. But soon he’s improvising impassioned sermons, causing the number of churchgoers to swell. The community has been unable to move on from a tragedy in which seven youths were killed in a car accident, including Marta’s brother. Bereaved family members hold a nightly vigil at a roadside shrine. They are in desperate need of new spiritual leadership, and Daniel increasingly comes to believe in his ability to provide it.
The story’s later developments are not always as lucid as its setup, but the frequent searching close-ups of Daniel’s face have a magnetic pull as he settles deeper into the assumed role. Moments such as when he’s called one night to administer last rites to an old woman are strangely moving.
Finding an ally in Marta, he even takes up unpopular initiatives like insisting on a proper funeral for the driver of the other car in the accident, whose widow (Barbara Kurzaj) has been harshly ostracized. This makes Daniel a figure of compassion, which tempers his deception and adds to the drama’s moral ambiguities. But foreshadowing indicates from early on that his past eventually will catch up with him, fueling a tense final act that includes explosive violence.
Komasa directs with an impressive rigor that fits the subject matter, and the incorporation of subtle ecclesiastical embellishments in the score adds to the imposing solemnity. The smoldering center of it all is Bielenia’s remarkable performance. Daniel is an outsider who becomes an unlikely vessel of comfort and perhaps even healing for a town locked in grief. At the same time, his own faith continues to be tested, along with the adherence to Christian doctrine of many in the community. Daniel keeps us guessing about whether religion is a mere escape for him or a true spiritual transformation in a world where forgiveness doesn’t come easy.
David Rooney, the Hollywood Reporter, September 4th 2019.
|34 (53%)||27 (42%)||3 (5%)||0 (0%)||0 (0%)|
Total Number of Responses: 64
Film Score (0-5): 4.48
104 members and guests attended the screening of Corpus Christi. 64 gave a response either on the night or online. Thank you for listening to my appeal and acting on it…the response rate is 62%. That’s fabulous. As I have said in the past, I really do enjoy reading everything you write and it helps guide the committee with the selection of the following years films.
I have collected all your comments below.
“I had expected this to be about faith but Daniel's appears naive if deep held and remains unquestioned. Indeed, it is more a humanitarian film than a Christian one, more concerned with the church than God but mostly about the universal themes of truth, guilt, blame, generosity of spirit, honesty and redemption. As such it resembles a classic western and as the lone gunman with a murky past walking into town Bartosz Bielenia is a brilliant bit of casting. His haunted features and ice chip eyes are perfect for his convincing transcendent moments. The moral balance remains pleasingly uncertain throughout and the finale stunning, providing more questions than answers”.
“Tremendous film -beautifully nuanced story, great characters and acting. Not sure I understood the ending!”
“Corpus Christi is the Latin term for body of Christ. It is also the day when the Catholic Church commemorates the practice of Holy Eucharist or Communion. From these points of reference, the director Jan Komasa takes us on a complex journey in "Corpus Christi" and doesn't let us off easily at any point. Obviously, there are numerous references to the life of Christ. And he shows us - unflinchingly - what sin, redemption, power, forgiveness, cruelty and human weakness look like amongst modern everyday people in this small Polish village. The lead actor Bartosz Bielenia is mesmerising as Daniel and completely carries the film. The film is still rumbling around in me and will continue to do so for some time to come. I like films that make me think”.
“The movie was impactful and intelligent. I loved the psychological aspects and subconscious elements. The parallel between the prison and the small enclosed town, represented by the surrounding mountains, was classic yet insightful. The film managed to create a wonderful harmony of various difficult themes, including forgiveness, restorative justice, crime, addiction, juvenile prison, corruption, hypocrisy, religion, redemption, love, and universal law, all intricately woven together without making it feel complicated, busy, or unnecessarily prolonged. The pacing was just right, with wonderfully effortless editing that made it easy to focus on the amazing plot. The moments of silence were effective, and the sound of the ticking clock was almost haunting. The great success of the movie can be attributed to the multi-dimensional characters portrayed superbly by well-chosen actors. The script wa first-rate, complete with memorable quotes. (Let me write down the important lines if I may: "To forgive doesn't mean to forget. Forgiving means love. To love someone despite their guilt, no matter what the guilt is".) “.
“Bookended by brutal opening and closing scenes, I found the main story took a little too long to get really interesting...but it did become more engrossing and tense, and the main character more believable. The extraordinary final violent scenes left a real question as to whether he was faking it all along, or had his faith ripped away from him. I think I go with the former, but he did a very convincing job along the way!”
“Kept my attention and seemed shorter than it actually was, a clear sign that I enjoyed it”.
“Incredibly powerful and with a riveting lead actor. There was so much good in him and despite his past experiences and it was tragic that he ended back where he began”.
“Felt the film was too horrific and gory - not my sort of film at all. However, he did try to bring the people of the parish together but being so near to his past it caught up with him”.
“A disturbing film but beautifully acted by the lead character. A truly mesmerising performance. The final scene I found heartbreaking”.
“A very compelling film. Amazing performance from the lead and well supported. Left you wondering on several points, including whether he did escape and whether he was really strongly religious or saw it as an opportunity to be heard and be someone, also where did the girl go and who with and who/what was the real cause of the car accident which divided the village. Another film I probably would not have chosen to watch at home or go to the cinema to see, but so glad I have seen it. Thanks to the Committee for another good choice”.
“Well made, but not a great advert for the Church”.
“Best film yet. Shame many of our audience are looking for something a bit more mainstream, which is reflected in their reaction to tonight's ending and their scoring of others this season. I'm enjoying the programme so far - scored the other three all as good (for very different reasons) - and look forward to Mulholland Drive!”
“Powerful, moving and sometimes hard to watch. Beautifully rendered in a muted colour palette evoking the austerity of the place and religion”.
“Intense, gripping. Great message. In the pamphlet blurb, the film was described as 'uplifting'...hmmmm, not sure I’d agree with that!!”
“Acting – story-moral – amazing. But what hopelessness?? More like that not Thank You for Smoking”.
“Gripping; Tense; Thought provoking”.
“The close connection between violent delinquency and search for redemption was well told”.
“Tough and deep into depth of our humanity”.
“So powerful”. Thought provoking. Based on a true-life story? Is prison so … (unable to read the word)”.
“Was amazing. Very powerful, moving, sad, passionately acted…. working on many levels. We are all priests”.
“Emotionally brilliant”. “Excellent”.
“A most beautiful film. Fantastic lead actors – really enjoyed it. Very different”.
“Totally involving – believable. Seemed short – did not drag”.
“An Excellent film – lots of religious issues to discuss. But – the ending???”
“So good”. “Very powerful”. “Amazing film – incredibly well acted”.
“Superb. Hard to watch the end”. “WOW!”
“What an incredible film! Didn’t expect that ending! A very difficult watch”.
“Fascinating! Great acting.”
“To pay for one’s sins by taking a pounding is less than pressable”.
“Thought the pace was off in the last half, a bit too long”.
“Very powerful story line. Not always easy to watch”. “Very strange end”.
“Intense and unafraid to take its time. Strong character focus”.
“Tough beginning and end but the middle was beautiful”.
“Well – what and ending! Throughout the film I was wondering how it would end”.
“Fantastic acting. Couldn’t watch the ending”.
“A twisty plot, didn’t go where I expected, but ultimately some redemption. The ending? No idea”.
“Great acting and cinematography. But not sure about the end – would I have got a message?”
“Brutal but a good story”