Tuesday, February 18, 2020

In CORPUS CHRISTI, Jan Komasa and Mateusz Pacewicz explore what religion could be and do

At the beginning of CORPUS CHRISTI -- the Polish film nominated as one of the five best "International" films of 2019, as the former Best Foreign Language Film category has been re-christened the movie got lost, as did the other three nominees, via the now legendary Parasite hammer-down) -- a young prison inmate stands lookout as a group of young prisoners, led by the prison bully, of course, torture another inmate. They "pants" their victim, place his ball sac inside a drawer, and then repeatedly slam that drawer shut. Yeah, real nice.

Our young "lookout," Daniel, turns out to be the hero of this film and quite a hero he proves. In addition to his helping with the torture -- you get the sense that he was himself probably once a torture victim -- he assists the priest who officiates the prison mass. Poland is, and evidently long has been, a hugely Catholic country; its antisemitism -- now and historically -- is legendary, while the hypocrisy of its worshipers is most likely on a par with that of any other country, worldwide, the USA included.

The film's director, Jan Komasa (shown at right), and screenwriter, Mateusz Pacewicz, certainly assume that their Polish audience knows all this, and perhaps Americans with any sense of history, in particular the history of foreign countries, will know it, too.

In any case, Daniel -- played with a remarkable and surprisingly believable combination of ferocity, intelligence and adaptability by Batosz Bielenia (above), an actor new to TrustMovies' purview -- has listened well to the sermon by the priest (it is actually pretty damn good: the young prisoners, as well as we in the audience, can learn from it), and once he is released back into the "free" world, Daniel visits the saw mill (below) at which he is supposed to find work, decides that he wants no part of this, and goes to the church in the nearby town to figure out what happens next.

Thanks to a combination of appropriate costume, his own quick-thinking/lying, and the gullibility of the townsfolk, including even the local clergy, where things "religious" are concerned, Daniel has soon become the town's new, if temporary, priest. Where he takes this priesthood is what makes Corpus Christi such a special movie and Daniel himself such an invigorating and original character.

The young man does not change as much as simply grow into his new profession, while retaining his insistence on challenging authority, especially when it proves to be power masquerading as truth/right. In the process, he offers his new community the kind of religion of which Jesus himself might have been delighted and proud.

Daniel's growth is shown in numerous way, but none is any richer or more redolent than those of his fucking. Early on he screws a young woman -- she's undoubtedly doing it for the money -- fast and hard, cognizant of nothing more than getting his own rocks off; how different, toward movie's end, when he fucks someone he has learned to care for.

What brings Corpus Christi to a head, placing Daniel on collision course with the town's powers-that-be, is an automobile accident that happened prior to his arrival, but that has pitted the entire community against the widow of a man involved in that accident. How this plays out is full of irony -- not of the easy sort  --  and hypocrisy, forcing the townspeople to confront things they would rather keep at bay.

Subsidiary characters are thankfully created with the same full-bodied, multi-faceted view that is our Daniel. Nothing, save for how the original premise comes into being, is easy here, If you are expecting a happy Hollywood ending, look elsewhere. But if you want a challenge, especially one that stands up to the usual cliche-ridden look at religion -- any religion -- this fine little movie is for you.

From Film Movement, in Polish with English subtitles and running 116 minutes, Corpus Christi opened this past Friday at the Music Box Theater in Chicago, and will hit New York City at Film Forum tomorrow, Wednesday, February 19, and Miami at the Tower Theater this Friday, February 21 and here in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters on March 13. In the weeks to come it will play most other major (along with some minor) cities across the country, as well. To view all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters, click here and then scroll way down.

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