NZIFF 2020 – Corpus Christi REVIEW
NZIFF 2020 – Corpus Christi REVIEW
Director – Jan Komasa
Starring – Bartosz Bielenia, Eliza Rycembel, Aleksandra Konieczna, Tomasz Zietek, Leszek Lichota, ?ukasz Simlat, Lidia Bogacz
In Corpus Christi a loser ex-con gets mistaken for a priest and brings a small Polish village to life. GARY STEEL loved every minute of it.
Of the 15 New Zealand International Film Festival movies I viewed this year, standing head and shoulders above the others is this, Jan Komasa’s flawlessly great drama, Corpus Christi. Sadly, however, by the time I could review it, the film had finished its brief run.
The basic idea of an outsider proving more authentic and inspirational than an authority figure enmeshed in the system has been explored a number of times in cinema, and this is not the first time the specific scenario of a “bad” preacher has been committed to film. But never, ever, quite like this and with the emotional and philosophical heft of Corpus Christi.
What has to be noted right upfront is the incredible contribution its lead actor makes to the power of the film. Bartosz Bielenia gives a riveting performance right from the first time the camera catches his elegantly wasted visage. Corpus Christi is his film to the extent that it’s hard to imagine anyone else acting the part.
Where so many art films give the two-finger salute to conventional notions of plot, character development and dramatic arc, Corpus Christi is that rare film that’s so involving you completely forget to notice whether it’s following those conventions or busting out into something a little different. There’s certainly little that’s overtly conventional about the film, which some of the time feels almost documentary-like but always feels edgy and exciting, mainly because every element seems to have been forged with a real creative spark.
The xmall Polish village setting is relentlessly gloomy, which makes its success (and my enjoyment of the film) all the more surprising. There are no blue skies here and the community that the young ex-con masquerading as a priest more or less accidentally falls into is as claustrophobic as that of his previous incarceration, even if here he’s given a modicum of respect and free alcohol.
Conventional or otherwise, there are so few films that explore this subject that it proves a rich area to mine. And while the main perspective (and overwhelming presence) in the film is that of Bielenia, there are no support characters here who are merely shadows. Everyone in this community is hurting in their own way, and of course seeking guidance from God’s conduit, this inspirational young fellow who we know isn’t who they think he is.
Our own perspective changes over the course of the film, too. At the beginning of the film, Bielenia’s character seems like he might be a bad egg and his interest in Priesthood merely dressage, and as the situation progresses it seems that even he’s not sure. But having so many villagers dependent on him brings out the best in him.
Which makes the whole thing sound pious, and it’s not. Corpus Christi is not a feelgood film and it doesn’t have an entirely happy resolution, so don’t go to expect the standard Hollywood inspirational vibe. But do seek this film out. It’s very, very good.
* Corpus Christi has now finished its short season at the NZIFF 2020.
Check out Witchdoctor’s New Zealand International Film Festival reviews: