Synopsis: Unable to become a priest because of his criminal record, when Daniel is sent to work at a carpenter’s workshop in a small town he accidentally takes over the local parish, providing an opportunity for the local community to begin the healing process after a tragedy.
Stars: Bartosz Bielenia, Eliza Rycembel, Aleksandra Konieczna, Tomasz Zietek, Leszek Lichota, Lukasz Simlat, Zdislaw Wardejn, Barbara Kurzaj
Director: Jan Komasa
Running Length: 115 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: The past few years, I’ve started to feel a little bad for the other four nominees in the Best International Feature (formerly Best Foreign Film) at the Oscars. The way things have shaken out, by the time the nominations are announced there is already a clear front-runner and that tends to push the other films in that category to the sidelines. Though people can say they want to be well-rounded and globally astute, if there is one blind spot at the Academy Awards where they can be comfortable it’s Best International Feature. That’s why I get the feeling that once voters know about the front runner (this year Parasite, last year Roma, the previous year A Fantastic Woman) they then feel they can ignore the other nominees.
That’s a shame because doing that means you miss other interesting features like Never Look Away and Capernaum from 2018 and the selections from this year: Les Misérables, Honeyland, Pain and Glory, and this Polish entry just getting a wider release now. I was fortunate enough to get a look at this one before the ceremony and while I don’t think I could have rightfully voted it as the winner, you can easily see why the nominating committee took notice of this interesting feature. Mixing themes of faith, drama, redemption, and, astonishingly, a little bit of mistaken identity comedy, I thought I knew the familiar path Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) was going to tread but director Jan Komasa, working from a script by Mateusz Pacewicz, finds a unique and scenic cinematic route to take.
Developing faith during his stay in a youth detention facility, Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) wants to continue his training when he is released and become a full time priest. His past run-ins with the law prevents that from happening so he accepts the terms of his work release and travels to a small town to begin work as a carpenter. Through a series of coincidences that can only happen in the movies (but a smartly crafted one), he winds up being mistaken for a new priest that’s been expected at the parish and uses that misunderstanding to his advantage. Barely met with a sideways glance or anyone questioning his true identity, he fits in remarkably well and it’s only when he challenges the town’s approach to a tragedy that feathers get ruffled and truths are uncovered. Until then, Daniel forms a bond with the daughter (Eliza Rycembel) of a devoted pillar of the church (Aleksandra Konieczna) while trying to avoid a figure from his past that shows up at a most inopportune time. Through it all, he manages to impart on the town, and on himself, some words of true wisdom that only someone speaking from the heart could drum up. In doing that, he tells the truth even when living with a lie.
Aside from a rather unfortunate graphic sex scene and the insistence of finding some kind of villain to fill the film’s third act, Corpus Christi is a rather lovely film that could have been something they showed in church. As Daniel, Bielenia commands the screen with not just charm but a passion that makes you root for him even though you know he’s deceiving others and digging a dangerous hole deeper and deeper. I wish the film had focused a bit more on figuring out who he was before we met him instead of making him such an enigma but perhaps that’s the point and we the audience are being treated like the townspeople – how do we judge Daniel based only on what we are presented with? Interesting questions for an intriguing film.