“Body of Christ”
Not rated. In Polish with subtitles. Streaming at Martha’s Vineyard Film Center and on the film distributor’s website, Film Movement.
“Corpus Christi” is a nominee in the “International Film” category at this year’s Academy Awards and recalls Nikolai Gogol’s classic false identity “The Government Inspector” in his story of a young convict who presents himself as the new priest for a small victim Village in the Polish countryside. At first you think there will be a fox in a villain’s chicken coop story who takes advantage of the power that priestly robes bestow on people, especially in the countryside. But the film is full of surprises.
Daniel (handsome Bartosz Bielenia with baby face) is released from juvenile prison, where he was serving time for second-degree murder and also serving as an altar boy for the prison mass. Daniel’s criminal record makes it impossible for him to get into a seminar. But after his release he arrives in a small village where a new priest is supposed to replace the old one who has become sick, and Daniel, who wants to become a priest even though he is a sinner, plays along and soon indulges in helping Families and victims, hearing of confessions, mass and sermon for the villagers who are looking for reconciliation and forgiveness. It is not a mockery. Daniel is serious about his job and he needs sinners as much as they need him. At the same time, he is obviously attracted to one of the young women in the village, a girl named Eliza (Eliza Rycembel). She returns his interest. In his free time Daniel is drawn to the young people of the village, who enjoy his company and treat him as one of them and even aim high with him. Soon Daniel learns some of the dark secrets of the village and sets out to help the people heal. But soon another ex con man comes and threatens his parishioners to reveal the truth about Daniel.
Every time you think you know what will happen in “Corpus Christi”, the film and its leading actor will surprise you. As Daniel, Bielenia reminded me of the young Christopher Walken, a wacky, sexually attractive Brand with a violent streak. Daniel expresses his passion for Catholicism in a way that villagers can understand and relate to. In more traditional usage, he makes them see, or at least want to see, the light, and Bielenia is unusually adept at expressing this. When he and Eliza get drunk and have sex for the first time in a remarkably sensual scene, you are in shock. But then you remember, he’s not the village priest. He’s a cheat, a 20 year old ex-conv, and that actually makes you relieved. He also helps the community. What if he’s a cheater? Aren’t we all deceivers and sinners in one way or another? Don’t we all, with a few exceptions, have doubts? Mateusz Pacewicz’s brilliant script, inspired by a true story, also takes inspiration from Nathaniel Hawthorne. “Corpus Christi”, directed by award-winning aspiring star Jan Komasa (“Warsaw 44”), sincerely explores the role of religion in our lives. Despite its violence, nudity and gender, which are found in abundance in the Bible, the film is pious at heart. Get ready to see the light.
(“Corpus Christi” contains drug use, sexually stimulating images, profanity and violence)