Director Jan Komasa presents a hell of an emotional suckerpunch with CORPUS CHRISTI, a film about an ex-convict who pretends to be a priest in a small Polish town. The film was nominated for an Oscar, and it's obvious why: the story is compelling, and the content is close to home, even for those who didn't grow up religious.
Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is about to get off on parole. In prison, he established himself as an assistant to the prison priest, helping with services -- while he still gets caught up in the antics of his fellow inmates, it is clear that Daniel has been captivated by God.
Or... well. Is it God, or just the idea of priesthood? As Daniel prepares to leave prison, he asks the prison priest, Tomasz (Lucasz Simlat) if he can join seminary in the outside world. Tomasz says no, that they would never accept an ex-convict in seminary. There are other ways, he says, to make a change, and he insinuates that Daniel can start at his work placement, at the local sawmill. Many ex-cons have seen their first job at the sawmill because, well, they're willing to hire the. But the day Daniel is supposed to arrive at the sawmill, he visits a local church and has a conversation with a young woman (Eliza Rycembel) whose prejudgment causes Daniel to lie and tell her he is a priest, traveling from parish to parish.
He convinces her that he's telling the truth, and the priest at the parish offers for Daniel to stay with him. But the priest becomes sickly (while Daniel is sure it is alcoholism, no one else is ready to admit it), and Daniel agrees to take over his responsibilities until he gets better. While Daniel doesn't cut out drinking or smoking, he does throw himself wholeheartedly into his temporary priesthood, giving sermons and administering confession, and in general being the shepherd for his new flock.
And oh, how the flock needs a shepherd. Daniel learns that the community is still very much affected by a car crash that happened recently, in which seven people died -- six teenagers, and one adult. Daniel quickly notes that only six faces are on the memorial that the community has constructed. The driver of the other car, they say, was drunk, and should not be allowed to have a spot on the memorial.
So angry are they about this that the widow of the driver has not even been allowed to have a funeral for her late husband.
Daniel sees this as unacceptable. But as he tries to help ease tensions in the community, an old prisonmate, Pinscer (Tomasz Zietek), begins working at the sawmill, and Daniel realizes his time hiding in this small town is running short.
The story told in CORPUS CHRISTI is poignant and relatable, and not just to those who have a connection to religion in their life. It portrays a community that would rather point the finger and be angry than heal and move on -- a broken community, discovered by a man who has already started his own process of healing. "You know what we're good at?" he asks. "Giving up on people." And he makes it clear that he won't do that, no matter what. Daniel is a bit of a peculiar character, because his struggle doesn't seem to be in committing sin to keep the thing he wants the most -- his struggle is in being there for his community, even when he shouldn't be.
The characters in this film are real, and the emotions are quiet, but raw. Bielenia gives a phenomenal performance that draws us to him throughout the entire film. Don't let this film pass you by! It is well worth the watch.