God and Man in Rural Poland

Corpus Christi (BOŻE CIAŁO) (2019 | Poland | 155 minutes | Jan Komasa)

What do sin, redemption, and forgiveness mean when the new priest in your small town snorts cocaine, has sex with anonymous women, looks like an extra in Trainspotting, and works at sawmill when let out of juvenile prison? That’s the moral quandary that is at the heart of Poland’s 2019 entry to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s an incredibly powerful and moving film. And if Hollywood decided it wanted an American remake, it would almost certainly be a comedy starring Pete Davidson. 

Daniel wants to be a priest but he knows that his criminal record keeps him from ever even thinking of joining the seminary. Still, he has a collar on his person and is able to convince a small parish in rural Poland that he’s a man of the cloth and soon he’s filling in for the elderly priest in town while he attends to some medical issues. A couple of days quickly becomes indefinitely and everyone in town knows Daniel as Fr. Thomasz. For all of Daniel’s off-duty sins, Father Thomasz still has a very clear moral compass. 

Bartosz Bielenia is remarkable in his role as Daniel, who blossoms from an unsteady imposter that has to google what to say during Confession to a key member of his community. The Church seems to be undergoing a bit of a youth movement, but only in popular entertainment. He’s a bit unorthodox and it breeds some resentment from the older members of the parish. This really comes to a boil when Fr. Thomasz begins to question why the town has shunned the widow of a man who was driving (possibly drunk) when he struck a car head-on and killed all six people in the car plus himself. The widow, who looks beaten down from the shunning her neighbors have given her, keeps a box of letters from upstanding members of the town telling her she’s a whore. The irony is not lost on anyone who notices that the sinful imposter has a clearer understanding of right and wrong than the townspeople who would all consider themselves of high moral character. 

Daniel knows that he’s only one step ahead of being caught, and each sermon reads like a confession, but he also acts a little brazen, like reading a prayer that denounces greed just before blessing a new wing to the sawmill. He seems to be on the verge of running away at any moment but his desire to serve his community keeps him from getting too far.

The film is absorbing, moving, and thought-provoking. It’s not a “fun” movie to watch in any way (even First Reformed has more comic relief), but it’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. It’s a beautifully told story that’s very well-acted across the board and big ideas are running throughout. 

If you get the chance to see it, please do so. 

☆☆☆☆ ☆

{Corpus Christi plays at SIFF Cinema Uptown through Thursday, February 28. Tickets and showtimes can be found here.}