Oscar-nominated ‘Corpus Christi’ spins an inspirational tale and a tense countdown

“Corpus Christi” – “No seminary accepts convicts like you.” – Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat)

“Doesn’t matter where you’re coming from.  All that matters is where you are going.” – Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia)

Daniel (Bielenia) doesn’t wish to think about his previous travels.

This slight, young Polish man – with glittery sapphire eyes and an impish crewcut – has crashed into life’s dead ends and incessantly circled in nowhere cul-de-sacs.  He actually resembles an Eastern Bloc version of Scottish hooligan Renton (Ewan McGregor) from “Trainspotting” (1996), but sans any mates to lift his spirits or share his misery.

Daniel is a loner.

Although, he does have a future.  One picked out for him, because after his release from a detention facility, he’s assigned a job at a sawmill nestled in the comfortable, picturesque countryside.  It also looks like his move coincides with late summer and long, sunny – but not stifling, humid – days, to boot.  This man with a questionable past, however, wishes to kick this preordained trade to the side of a winding, single-lane road and instead, choose his ordained calling.  Well, opportunity knocks, and Daniel begins a devout masquerade as a priest.

Yes, “Corpus Christi” – nominated for a 2020 Best International Feature Film Oscar – is a movie about dreams and deceit, as director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz spin an inspirational tale and a tense countdown.  Daniel impersonates a man of the cloth in figurative and literal broad daylight, but a simple Internet search or an inquisitive phone call would unravel his spur-of-the-moment charade faster than you can say, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

The casual, trusting small-town atmosphere does offer some cover for his sham, but doesn’t Facebook have a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon rule or something?  Well, no matter, because an unseen cinematic clock ominously ticks during every sermon, confessional duty or simple walk around town.  In addition to the frequent bouts of unease, Bielenia and Komasa also warmly invite the audience to embrace Daniel’s new identity.  Since the movie offers a couple glimpses into Daniel’s reckless and destructive sides, any sort of altruistic turns and warm connections with the locals in this nameless village (but actually filmed in Jasliska and Tabaszowa, Poland) will most assuredly bring heartfelt smiles.

Smiles and laughter, however, are difficult to muster for many residents, because a recent tragedy has shaken this settlement’s collective soul, and not only is Daniel hiding his true identity, but many others are suppressing their Christian natures.  It turns out that folks in these parts might need Daniel’s outsider-spark to draw out their best selves.

“Corpus Christi” steps into “Dead Poets Society” (1989) and “Monsieur Lazhar” (2011) circles, and more so the latter film.  Although both aforementioned movies feature teachers inspiring their students, John Keating (Robin Williams) is more assured of his gifts from the outset, while Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) is a newcomer to the profession but surprises himself with his positive influence.  Daniel and Bachir feel a similar satisfaction with themselves and recognize equal measures of gratitude from their on-screen audiences.

Speaking of on-screen audiences, Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna) and an unnamed widow (Barbara Kurzaj) play key roles in responding to Daniel’s affirming impacts, and Eliza (Eliza Rycembel) is a welcome sight in every scene as the priest’s biggest ally.  Take heed though, because this film isn’t all rainbows and lollipops.  Daniel’s pious journey starts with opportunistic circumstances and is built on a foundation of dubious behavior.  Those suspect elements don’t simply disappear into the ether, but “Corpus Christi” makes an honest case that seminaries should take a hard look at this particular convict.

⭐⭐⭐1/2  out of   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image credits: Kino Swiat; Trailer credits: Film Movement

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