Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Jan Komosa

Stars: Bartosz Bielenia, Alexandra Koniecza, Leslek Lichota, Zdzislaw Wardejn, Eliza Rycembel, Lukasz Simlat, Barbara Kurzaj.

Corpus Christi: NZIFF Review

Corpus Christi was Poland’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

This is a powerful, thoughtful, well-made but bittersweet drama about religion, faith, guilt, redemption, forgiveness, second chances and the role that the church plays in a community in the 21st century.

Daniel (a charismatic Bartosz Bielenia) is a troubled and often violent young man who has been in a juvenile detention facility for s few years. Having found God during his incarceration he aspires to be a priest, an ambition he has discussed with the facility’s sympathetic chaplain. But given his criminal past, and his prodigious appetite for sex and drugs, Daniel knows that this is an impossible ambition. Still he helps out during religious services in the facility. Then Daniel is paroled and sent to work in a sawmill situated in a remote small town on the other side of the country. But, through a series of coincidences, he is mistakenly identified as Father Tomasz, the replacement to the local priest (Zdzislaw Wardejn) who is about to leave for prolonged treatment for his alcoholism.

Daniel knows the rituals of the church – he hears confessions, holds masses – and his rather unorthodox approach actually brings people back to the church. Daniel demonstrates more compassion and empathy for the community, many of whom are still grieving over a recent tragedy that killed a handful of teenagers and has divided the community. As Daniel attempts to heal the rift in the town the more conservative sacristan (Alexandra Koniecza) is a bit concerned about his unorthodox ministrations. In trying to expose the truth behind the fatal the accident, Daniel clashes with the town’s powerful and sleazy mayor (Leszek Lichota) who advises him to steer clear of such controversial action.

But how long can Daniel go on before his ruse is exposed and his chequered past catches up with him? This question adds an element of suspense to the film.

Despite the strange premise, we are told that Corpus Christi is based on a true story. However, director Jan Komosa (Warsaw 44, etc) and his regular collaborator writer Mateusz Pacewicz (who wrote The Hater for Komosa) have taken some liberties for dramatic purposes. The film also manages to deliver a subtle criticism of the dogmatic practices of the Catholic church and raises some complex questions. Sobocinski uses a muted colour palette that loans the material a sombre and often bleak tone.

A perfectly cast Bielenia is in every scene, and the magnetic young actor delivers a strong, committed and intense performance here that commands our attention. With striking looks – gaunt features, tattoos, shaven head and piercing eyes – he is a very photogenic actor, and Komosa and his cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski jr often work in close up to good effect. Bielenia also brings a hint of vulnerability and inner turmoil to his role as the flawed protagonist.

★★★ ★

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