When he arrives there to pray, he meets Eliza (Eliza Rycembel) and tells her he is, in fact, a priest showing her a robe and a collar in his bag. Whether Daniel said it for fun or to impress the young woman, his words didn’t fall on deaf ears! Eliza brings him to meet the church vicar and assistant Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who happened to be her mother. His arrival in the parish was perfect timing – or divine intervention – since the old priest was waiting for a replacement to cover him for a few days. So, even though at first Daniel tried to get away from the situation knowing he was in over his head, he has to go along and embrace his new identity as father Tomasz, freshly graduated from seminary. Next thing you know, Daniel – as father Tomasz – is conducting masses, at first, they are word-by-word those of prison Priest Tomasz, but soon he finds his own fresh and near-unorthodox voice that will intrigue the faithful and villagers at large. Congregants flock to his services, asking him to perform last rites or even to hear their confessions. So Daniel will have to “learn on the go” thanks to some Googling! Many of these moments were truly touching, but the filmmaker managed to make them almost comical as the situations often seemed absurd yet in a realistic manner.
Day after day, Daniel will have small revelations that will guide him in his spiritual awakening and journey to the priesthood. On the other, his past is haunting him and after learning about the details of the local tragedy that took the lives of a group of young people pictured in a shrine in front of the church – which becomes an important plot point and gives our character motives – his faith will be tested. But Daniel will help the villagers as much as they will help him become a better priest.
“…a one-of-a-kind film that is funny, fresh, moving and one of 2019 best.”
It might be hard to believe Corpus Christi is based on real stories of people pretending to be clergyman, and possibly believing it by redefining what it means to be a man of the cloth (as in it is what’s in one’s heart and purity/sincerity of their faith, as opposed to seminary graduation). Yet, it is definitely not your typical religious movie – though it might be close to films like Schrader’s masterpiece First Reformed (without the mystic!). It explores universal themes, not only specific to the Catholic Church and Believers but to whoever believes in humanity and people’s ability to do good. Corpus Christi also makes viewers reassess the meaning of religious (or not) notions such as salvation, judgment, guilt, making amends, temptations, or repentance for one’s sins. For example, in one the fun yet a deep moment, Daniel is seen hearing a confession of a woman who is truly remorseful for beating her son, and as a penance, he solely orders her to ‘take her son biking.’ It is simple yet meaningful and efficient, as we can imagine, this will straighten the bond between the family members. In another scene, the young priest is seen giving advice and philosophizing about religion with teens barely younger than him. Thus, the film makes sure we know Daniel has a unique understanding of human nature and stories.
The film is an important one, but above all, it is an exceptionally pleasing and easy one to watch despite its density. This is partly due to Bartosz’s fantastic performance showing great acting range by going through a whole spectrum of emotions very convincingly and subtly. Not every performance in the film is awe-inducing, but as a whole, the cast manages to relate this special story with great energy. That being said, Corpus Christi can be slightly disturbing in part with scenes of great intensity coupled with an unsettling, yet captivating, score sporadically playing to great effect. It could have easily been “one of these slow and heavy Eastern European Art-house films,” but instead, and thanks to the aforementioned modern scoring and its vibrant energy, Corpus Christi is a one-of-a-kind film that is funny, fresh, moving and one of 2019 best.
In the end, and as previously mentioned, one may say that just like a whole parish could be charmed by Daniel eagerness and earnestness despite an obvious lie, Corpus Christi is a movie that wants viewers to believe its story in spite of its flaws and root for its lead until the very end and, what an ending! A redeemer of all the lesser parts of the film – and there were not that many.
Corpus Christi played at the 2019 AFI Film Festival.
"…is definitely not your typical religious movie..."