VENICE 2019 Giornate degli Autori
Review: Corpus Christi
by Ola Salwa
- VENICE 2019: In his superb new movie, Jan Komasa investigates the social dynamics of a small community that gets a new priest who hides his true identity
Corpus Christi is one of the finalists for the 2021 LUX Audience Award.
In Corpus Christi [+see also:
interview: Bartosz Bielenia
interview: Jan Komasa
film profile], screening in the Giornate degli Autori at the Venice Film Festival, Jan Komasa takes a closer look at small-town Poland, observing its conflicts, its mentality and its susceptibility to being influenced by both fake and real leaders. The director’s biggest ally here is his lead actor, Bartosz Bielenia, who works mainly in the field of Polish independent theatre. Bielenia digs deep into the psyche of his character and presents his inner struggle, with a twitch here and a look from his piercing blue eyes there. His on-screen charisma is jaw-dropping. The perfectly designed story leaves many questions hanging as to why people form communities and why they are more than willing to create divisions within these groups. What other subject could be more relevant in today’s Europe?
Twenty-something Daniel (Bielenia) has more past than he does future. He lives in a juvenile detention centre, under constant pressure and weighed down by the threat of his crimes returning to smother him. His only real friend is a fierce and open-minded priest (United States of Love [+see also:
interview: Tomasz Wasilewski
film profile]’s Łukasz Simlat). If he weren’t a young delinquent, Daniel would follow in his footsteps and become a man of the cloth. His wish will soon come true, but in an unexpected way. Because whatever force majeure is out there, it has a great sense of humour and is familiar with the inner workings of irony. So, when Daniel is sent from the centre to a workshop in a remote Polish village, his faith changes. He meets a free-spirited girl in a local church (Nina [+see also:
film profile]’s Eliza Rycembel), and he tells her he is a priest. What was initially a joke becomes a job – Daniel has to don the robes and begin his gospel. As the story evolves, he confronts a tragic secret that is devouring the community like a cancer, makes new allies and opponents, and faces his own issues. You want to both pray for him and witness his downfall.
The story, based on real events and written by Mateusz Pacewicz, has the effective structure of an emotional and spiritual road movie. Daniel gets his wish, but he must suffer the consequences. As he becomes more invested in guiding his flock, he delves deeper into his own lies as the stakes get ever higher. However, you can never tell whether he is a truly reformed man or just a trickster who enjoys manipulating people. Bielenia’s eyes can show both possibilities.
Jan Komasa, who previously worked on a big-budget film about the Warsaw Uprising (Warsaw 44 [+see also:
interview: Zofia Wichlacz
film profile]), explores his favourite themes here: investigating social structures and the clash between classes, searching for a secular equivalent of the congregation, a distrust of authority and, last but not least, the disdain-tinged empathy he has for outcasts. The Polish director also shows off his fortes in this movie: as usual, he gets superb performances out of his actors, and by working closely with his DoP, Piotr Sobociński Jr (Silent Night [+see also:
interview: Dawid Ogrodnik
interview: Piotr Domalewski
film profile]), he adds another narrative layer to the story: static frames and shifts in the colour palette as well as in the amount of light are the perfect tools to present the characters’ inner states. It seems significant that Corpus Christi and other recent Polish films, including Małgorzata Szumowska’s Mug [+see also:
interview: Małgorzata Szumowska
film profile], Wojciech Smarzowski’s Clergy [+see also:
interview: Wojciech Smarzowski
film profile] and the wonderful upcoming Supernova [+see also:
interview: Bartosz Kruhlik
film profile] by debutant Bartosz Kruhlik, investigate the dynamics of small groups, attempt to dismantle or criticise power structures, and question the “old ways”. Apparently it’s not only religious orders that require a confession before moving on to the next stage of life.
Corpus Christi was produced by Poland’s Aurum Film, in co-production with Canal+ Polska, WFS Walter Film Studio and France's Les Contes Modernes, while New Europe Film Sales handles the world rights.
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