Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało)
Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) is the story of a 20-year-old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) who experiences a spiritual transformation while living in a youth detention centre. He wants to become a priest but this is impossible because of his criminal record. When he is sent to work at a carpenter's workshop in a small town, on arrival he dresses up as a priest and accidentally takes over the local parish. The arrival of the young, charismatic preacher is an opportunity for the local community to begin the healing process after a tragedy that happened there.
In Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało), which enjoyed an utterly successful festival run in Europe since its world premiere in Venice’s Giornate degli Autori until being nominated to the Oscar for Best International Film, 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 (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 (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), 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, 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 (Boże Ciało) and other recent Polish films, 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 (Boże Ciało) 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. Europa Cinemas label; nomination in several categories for the 2020 European Film Awards
Ola Salwa, Cineuropa