The actor is the star of the film, Bartosz Bielenia. He plays Daniel, who is about to be released from a juvenile detention center – “prison” sounds too harsh, “reformatory” is definitely not tough enough. Daniel is a tough customer and also religious. He tells the chaplain that he wants to enter the seminary (he is 20). He can’t, says the chaplain, because of his criminal record. Nonetheless, he adds: “Each of us is the priest of Christ.”
Daniel signs up for a job at a sawmill. One look and he knows it’s not for him. He goes to the local church to collect his thoughts. Another churchgoer (Eliza Rycembel) looks at him questioningly. Her mother (Aleksandra Konieczna) is the housekeeper of the rectory. Daniel says he’s a priest. Yes, right, she says, and I’m a nun. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a bureau collar. This triggers a series of events that lead to Daniel – now “Father Tomasz” – stepping in if the pastor leaves unexpectedly for medical reasons.
Daniel barely looks old enough to be a seminarian, much less an ordained priest. Bielenia is 28 years old, but if he doesn’t age quickly he will be carded until he is 40. There are two reasons an audience can accept the acceptance of parishioners. The first is that an opening credits tell us that the film is based on a true story. The second also applies to the parishioners: Bielenia’s face. It is not just his performance that is very good with its balance between intensity and restraint – Daniel knows very well that he is getting deeper and deeper; He also knows that if he loses his identity, he will find himself. It is what this knowledge, this face hides and reveals.
Imagine the baby face of NBA star Stephen Curry, crossed with the tightness of young Christopher Walken’s head of death, crossed with the screaming character in Munch’s “The Scream”. This is Bielenia in “Corpus Christi”. It’s the look of a holy fool who is far from stupid. It’s a face of faith. If believers cannot believe in a face of faith, what can they believe in? “And now remain faith, hope, love, these three,” writes Paul in Korinith; “But the greatest of it is love.” “Corpus Christi” is a film about faith, not hope or love.
Jan Komasa, the director, knows that the outcome of Daniel’s impersonation is less important than the experience of it – the experience for him, the experience for the parishioners – and what salvation, if any, it can offer. Visually, Komasa typed “Corpus Christi” on blue and green. The color scheme is one way he uses to make sure the movie is muted without ever being sedated. Another reason is the leisurely rhythm. Even when events become intense or even violent and do so, there is nothing abrupt. “Corpus Christi” never breaks out. It unfolds.
With the kind permission of the film movement
As an insured filmmaker, Komasa knows exactly what he’s doing, even if it’s not always clear why he’s doing it. Not that he really likes clarity himself. He has a penchant for photographing interiors with a soft lens, as if a light mist fills the room. Presumably, the atmosphere is supposed to have an atmospheric effect, like an all-purpose incense. Just distracting at first, it appears to be a nuisance. Perhaps that could also be seen as a special effect, if not a good one.
BODY OF CHRIST
Directed by Jan Komasa. Written by Mateusz Pacewicz. Actors Bartosz Bielenia, Aleksandra Konieczna, Eliza Rycembel. Streaming via Coolidge Corner on coolidge.org. 115 minutes. Not rated (as R: violence, language, sexual situations, nudity). In Polish with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at [email protected]