Revisiting old classics, discovering hidden gems and exploring the contemporary movie scene: every month, Kafkadesk’s CineClub brings you new insights and expert film reviews of the greatest treasures of Central European cinema. This week: Corpus Christi (2019), by Jan Komasa.
Can an impostor Catholic priest, conditionally released from a juvenile facility, bring salvation and hope to a grieving community? The focal point of Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi, nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film in 2020, brings to the fore the moral dilemmas of forgiveness, redemption, and expiation through a harrowing story.
In the past decade, Paweł Pawlikowski crowned the Polish film industry by directing the masterful Ida (2013) and Cold War (2018) that brought notable international recognition, and Jan Komasa worthily continued his legacy to further catapult the country’s cinematic reputation into new heights.
The recent success story of Poland’s movie industry appears analogous to the new golden age of the Hungarian motion picture production, with the difference that Polish filmmakers adapt slightly more contemporary topics, putting the focus on issues that suffocate society in everyday life. As its primary story-telling pillar, Corpus Christi uses the abnormal tendency of fake priests stealing from small-town believers across Poland.
Lies and redemption
The film follows the depraved life of Daniel, acted by the young and creepy-faced Polish actor Bartosz Bielenia, who has been on parole from a correctional facility intending to use religion and put his soul on the right path, and whose criminal background prevents him from pursuing his dream to became a priest. After his release, Daniel falsely poses as a Polish rural community’s Catholic pastor and deliberately starts to preach for the sake of its members.
Contrary to films that directly condemn the Catholic Church for its controversial practices and internal sins, such as the depressing Song for a Raggy Boy or Doubt that look at the violence committed against novices, Corpus Christi does not provide a sharp critique of Catholicism, but instead draws a poignant sketch on how a wicked human soul struggles to find its right place in the world.
While Daniel’s criminal, drug and alcohol addict past fuels the movie with tragic personal elements, his attitude in favour of change and openness to forgiveness reflect his positive, more hopeful side. He has no intention to steal or to wrong anyone, nor to use his fake position to gain wealth. The main purpose of his deception is to do away with his “villain life” through God and serve the common good of the village.
Should society and the Catholic Church forgive a man who truly believes in redemption, even if the way he seeks to achieve it is based on a lie and a masquerade? The protagonist’s honesty and built-in optimism, as well as the traumas of his own life help him understand what the local community needs to heal the wounds left bare following the tragic loss of juveniles in a car accident.
21st century priest
Director Jan Komasa masterly illustrates the protagonist’s high moral standards by drawing a comparison with the self-centered and snobbish attitude of the mayor who only cares about the perfectly shining wax on his €60.000 luxury SUV.
Komasa managed to create an unusual priest character that immediately burns into the viewer’s memory. Let us only imagine the absurd scene of a community’s local pastor reading the Gospel of Matthew from his smartphone and joyfully sprinkling holy water around, while performing the Sunday morning oration in a pair of sneakers.
Besides the movie’s dramatic tone, the director excellently inserted such comic elements that emphasize the lovable and gawky side of the protagonist. From a certain point of view, the humorous mood of Corpus Christi is reminiscent of the cheerful religious attitude used by Niall Johnson in Keeping Mum. The movie is definitely worth a watch, with a slow-paced but well-crafted realism granting the immersive experience a charm that irresistibly catches the viewer’s attention.
By Bence Janek
Bence is a Budapest-born political science graduate, who studied in the United States and Spain. He previously worked for a government relations firm in Washington D.C., and later joined Ernst & Young Budapest. Bence is a freelance writer with expertise in the field of Hungarian and international business sectors, media, films and communication. Check out more film reviews from Central Europe right here!