The Catholic Church has had some troubling controversy but is still drawing many into its flock. So much so that there seems to be a problem in Poland with fake priests – men who pretend to be ordained ministers of the Church, and many of them believe they are doing so for the “right” reasons.
“Every year in Poland we have several cases of people posing as priests, priests or people of the faith, such as church officials,” says filmmaker Jan Komasa. “Obviously the church doesn’t talk about it because it’s a problem for them. It shows that anyone can obviously be a priest to some extent. It is kept under the carpet. But we know several cases every year. “
This unexpected trend became a passion for Mateusz Pacewicz, a young writer whose short novel became Poland’s Oscar-nominated film Corpus Christi, which Komasa came on board to direct. According to Komasa, Pacewicz was obsessed with the motivations of these scammers, particularly a case where a young man pretended to be a priest during Corpus Christi, a Catholic holiday held in May or June depending on the year.
“He organized the event in a small community in Poland and he was really personable and people loved him. They were shocked to learn that he was a fake priest, ”says Komasa. “He really wanted to become a spiritual guide for her. The most surprising, amazing thing was that the moment it was revealed, people started writing letters to the Vatican which was conducting an independent investigation. To everyone’s surprise, the Vatican [sanctioned] his sacraments because people didn’t know if they were married, if their children were baptized, etc. So it was a big problem. “
Pacewicz went to the village where this young man had operated and spoke to its residents. He eventually found the impostor who he discovered had been excommunicated from the Church. After writing his novel, a film producer asked Pacewicz about the film rights and let him try out the script. When Komasa directed the finished script, he thought he was “very happy” to get the job.
The final film focuses on a fictional character, Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), a young man who tries to escape the chains of the juvenile detention center where he lives because of a second degree murder conviction received as a teenager. He forges a relationship with the priest in the youth center and has a spiritual transformation. But he cannot go to seminary because he is a convicted criminal. He is mistaken for the new priest of a small town during a work release program and takes the opportunity.
While Bielenia seems perfect for the role once you’ve seen the film, Komasa had to convince its producers, who were quite skeptical at first. As Komasa notes, “it was a huge risk.”
“When he came to the audition, he had long hair, he was very thin, he was wearing a long sweater, a hat. He came with his dog, ”remembers Komasa. “My dad is an actor, so sometimes I have this intuition with actors, especially young ones, which of them is really for the role and who has the deepest, real, visceral hunger to play something else. Be brave and not be afraid to play theirs Leave your comfort zone.
“Bartosz had it and I felt it from the start and I knew he was capable of it. We just had to both work on Bartosz’s traits and make him 10 pounds heavier and taller, more muscular and act like a hooligan. “
Part of this research consisted of visiting juvenile detention centers and speaking to inmates. Komasa notes, “We were even invited to sleep with other inmates in one of the juvies for two nights. After Bartosz picked up the material, he knew what to do with it. At some point I just saw him become Daniel. It was a complete transformation. “
Komasa’s previous work has been shown at Cannes and Berlin film festivals, but being shortlisted for the international film Oscar is a notable moment in his career.
“I was sleeping then, so my daughter woke me up. I was too exhausted to even process it, so I just high-five and that was it, ”says Komasa. “I was quite stressed because I sacrificed a month and a half to campaigns. I really wanted Corpus Christi to be seen by the academy’s voters. I got the feeling that people really responded to the film and that it resonated with a lot of people in different cultures. “