Thursday, June 25, 2020

Movie Review: Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi **** / *****
Directed by: Jan Komasa.
Written by: Mateusz Pacewicz.
Starring: Bartosz Bielenia (Daniel), Aleksandra Konieczna (Lidia), Eliza Rycembel (Marta Sosińska), Leszek Lichota (Mayor), Lukasz Simlat (Priest Tomasz), Tomasz Zietek ('Pinczer'), Barbara Kurzaj (Widow).

Daniel, played in a brilliant performance by Bartosz Bielenia, is a damaged young man just exiting a stint in juvenile detention who may not be quite reformed – but certainly longs to be. We first meet him as he keeps watch as other inmates commit a violent assault, and this is shortly before he’s to be let free. Yet, when talking to the priest he has become close to while inside, he is legitimately disappointed that his criminal record will prevent him from entering seminary. Upon his release, he is supposed to travel to a small town, far away from his friends (which is a good thing, because the night he is released he goes on a bender) to take a menial job in a sawmill. Once there though, he tells an impulsive lie to a pretty girl, Marta (Eliza Rycembel) he meets in church – that he isn’t one of the dead end guys at the sawmill, but actually a priest. Before he knows it, this lie has expanded – and now he is the priest for this small congregation – as the real priest heads off for a stint in rehab.

This small town, like seemingly every small town in movies, is harboring some dark secrets – this time, involving a recent accident that left six teenagers dead when they collided with another car. The driver of that car was also killed – but everyone has agreed it was his fault, and take their anger out on his widow. Daniel takes it upon himself to try and heal this wound – and finds himself surprisingly good at the rest of the job of being a priest. His own brushes with violence and sin – which has damaged him – perhaps offers some insight that other priests lack.

 Bielenia is electric in the lead role here. Those opening scenes, full of violence, drugs and sex – show Daniel at his worst, and Bielenia uses his wild eyes to great effect. The movie does take the expected path for much of its runtime – with Daniel growing increasingly into the role that he is pretending to fill, but with enough differences to make it interesting. And it’s always fascinating to simply watch Daniel himself, and Bielenia’s great performance, which doesn’t give too much away. His growing relationship with Marta offers some complications of course – and he makes enemies out of the parents whose kids were killed (Aleksandra Konieczna is excellent as one of the mothers, who is also the housekeeper for the priest, who is filled with confusion).

 Of course, ruses like this never last in real life – or the movies – and eventually Daniel will be found out, albeit not quite in the way who may expect him to be. This leads to a violent, ambiguous finale – that makes you question what you’ve seen before it, in interesting ways – and leaves Daniel as a fascinating, unsolvable enigma. It also may make you wonder about the role of priests in the first place. Because while the older priest has earned the job that Daniel has not – both are addicts in their own ways, and with Daniel the people in the congregation are forced to reckon with their own morals far more than the idle, banal piety – easy to tune out – of what came before. Daniel is an imperfect messenger – but perhaps the message actually gets through with him.

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