Polish Cinema: Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa, 2019, Poland)

            Corpus Christi, a commercial success in its native Poland, is an interesting film that straddles the line between arthouse and commercial cinema. It also represents a change of pace for director Jan Komasa. Jan Komasa’s last film – Warsaw ’44 – was a hyper-stylized war film that showed the director’s acrobatic style. By comparison, Corpus Christi is much more substance over style, with the key element of the film being the haunting performance of lead Bartosz Bielenia in the role of Daniel. Bielenia plays the role as if he is wearing the weight of the world on his shoulders.
            The premise of Corpus Christi involves a young man from a Youth Detention center who somehow – despite not having been ordained – becomes mistaken for an interim priest in a small Polish village. This premise could be played for laughs or sentimentality, but Mateusz Pacewicz instead plays the material quite seriously, using it to explore the nature of faith. While it is clear that Daniel’s ruse will eventually unravel, it is unclear how exactly he will meet his downfall. In the meantime, his role serves as a catalyst that brings out a long buried tension in the village – as well as the ire of the local mayor. 
            Evoking the films of Paul Schrader, Corpus Christi grapples with the question of whether our protagonist can find redemption in his new role – or whether he even deserves it. While it times it feels like Komasa stretches this narrative beyond its welcome, the film’s great assets – evocative blue and green cinematography from Piotr Sobocinski and moving music from Evgueni and Sacha Galperine – keep things engaging. Likewise, the film’s bloody finale is truly tour de force cinema, and proves that Komasa and his team are willing to leave their protagonist’s ultimate fate a question mark. There is no sentimentality here.

8/10

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