This solid and compelling drama from Jan Komasa wraps a story about morality and choice around the limitations of class and culture in rural Poland.
Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is a tough and wiry youth in juvie – juvenile detention – where his wish to study for the priesthood is an impossibility because of his criminal past. He knows how to fight and how to fit in but is fortunately paroled before he is due a bashing (a slam) by bigger thug Bonus (Mateusz Czwartosz). Sent to work at a sawmill across the country that is owned by a mate of the juvie priest, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat), Daniel takes advantage of a misapprehension and stands in for the ailing priest (Zdzislaw Wardejn) at the local church.
Borrowing from the more non-conformist religious services and anger management approaches of Father Tomasz, Daniel upturns the staid and bitter community who are still trying to recover from the tragic death of a group of young people.
The film straddles a few genre; it is a character study that highlights social and cultural inequities and prejudices by exploring the choices that Daniel and those around him make. It has elements of a murder mystery as Daniel tries to unravel the secrets behind the village tragedy and overtones of a thriller as we wait for Daniel’s real identity to be unmasked. Its success hinges on the central character and Bielenia’s ability to be believable as both a thug and a priest, something that he achieves well. He seems to have a lot of wisdom for someone so young but we assume that the influence of Father Tomasz has had a genuinely rehabilitating effect.
We are given light and shade of many characters and Komasa resists the temptation to paint the moral issues in black and white. It’s a very different film but it reminded me of Servants (2020) in its themes – how accountable are we for the moral and ethical choices we make and how does this relate to both the essence and application of Christianity? There are some interesting female roles, especially Eliza (Eliza Rycembel) and her mother Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna) who provide two different viewpoints on morality, but they do not ultimately affect the path of the protagonist.
Corpus Christi was nominated for a Best International Feature Film award at the Academy Awards this year and it felt like a good, solid Oscar-worthy film. Its story is accessible, the characters are well-drawn and complex and it avoids easy solutions and trite resolution. It was up against Parasite, Honeyland and Pain and Glory though so didn’t really stand a chance. Watch it if you get the chance (and also these other three).
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.