Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Corpus Christi (2020) - Movie Review

Here’s a pretty extreme version of ‘fake it ‘til you make it’: Polish delinquent Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) wants to become a priest, but his criminal history prevents him from doing so. However, when he arrives into a town neighbouring a sawmill he’s supposed to be working at, he starts telling everyone he’s a priest… and they believe him. To the point where, when their own vicar falls ill, Daniel fills in for him and leads the town in their pursuit of faith.

It’s the kind of premise, one that puts deceit and religion directly next to each other, that reads like predominantly atheist cinema on the surface; like a miscalculated team-up of Ricky Gervais and Bill Zebub. However, where director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz differ (to a gargantuan extent) is that in their exploration of a man who bluffed his way into the Church, they unearth a tremendous amount of queries around ideas of faith, forgiveness, sin, and righteousness.

And it all starts with a fairly easy observation: The irony of Daniel as a faux-priest. A man whose belief in God is never in question, yet because of the sins he wishes to atone for through his faith, he is somehow less worthy to be in that church than people who attend out of habit rather than heartfelt intent. Him being as complex a character as he is helps with that as well, avoiding just being the ‘cool guy’ priest through the detailing of what made him choose this path, where that path is leading him, and Bielenia’s spellbinding performance of him walking that path.

There’s also his connection to the town around him, as his personal character arc serves as only part of the narrative equation here. As he applies some lived-in advice and solace for the sinners of the town, he discovers a collective mourning they’re all going through to do with a tragic car accident. Among other things, faith is a way to heal past actions, primarily a means to allow one to forgive themselves for their actions both past and present. And as his understanding of the circumstances behind that accident grow, in the process of helping the community heal, he looks at his congregation, and even the mayor of the town, and questions just how pious these people are.

The specifics behind both the accident and the circumstances behind a lot of the townspeople’s pain (Daniel included) aren’t spelled out for the audience. Hell, most of the film is left for the audience to infer, which ends up being an optimal approach for a story so adamant against giving (and receiving) easy answers. It approaches notions of faith in the same way films like Martin Scorsese’s Silence do, particularly in its examination of the difference between the faith present in one’s self and how it manifests in the eyes of others. And between the poignant writing, the capital performances, and the heart-sink of a conclusion, it turns the explorations of those themes into something truly remarkable.

It transcends the easy wink-nudges of its premise and leads right into a film that both satirises, yet thoughtfully appraises, the role of organised religion and belief as a whole. Even as someone with a slew of reservations about religion as organisation (as opposed to religion as personal journey), I can’t deny just how hard this hits as one of the most lucid depictions of faith I’ve ever covered on here.

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