Film Review:  Corpus Christi (NZIFF)

Based on a true story, Corpus Christi is a Dostoyevskian tale of redemption filmed in a bleak realist style, at a careful pace but with a well-crafted build-up of suspense and anxiety as the movie progresses.

Director: Jan Komasa   Writer: Mateusz Pacewicz     Starring: Bartosz Bielenia

The movie starts in a Youth Detention facility. Young men, all with number two haircuts, are working in Wood Shop. In the background a young man with his trousers half-down is being hazed and sexually assaulted. In the foreground, Daniel (Bielenia) is turning a blind eye. As soon as the bullies have finished, Daniel grabs the victim, holds him up and allows him to recover.

Daniel has found some refuge and purpose with the Catholic Church, and he is the Pastor’s assistant. He passionately wants to join a seminary, but is told sympathetically that with his criminal conviction that will never happen.

The Pastor says: Christ is always present, not just in this Chapel. If we all go out and play soccer now, He will be present.

The grimness of the Centre is emphasised when Daniel gets a plate smashed over his head by an evil-looking bastard at meal-time. We don’t know the story behind this. No one reacts except for the guards. This is Punishment. Without words two other inmates pick Daniel up.

The greatest, most uplifting feeling in the world is to be able to walk out of a prison. Closest you will get without actually doing it is Parchman Farm Blues by Bukka White.

And this is where the movies journey begins. Daniel becomes Dostoyevsky’s Idiot. A Christ figure who transforms the people he encounters by uncomfortably pointing out their prejudices and blindness, but in doing so taking on more and more the persona of a saviour.

Bielenia’s performance manages to convey this sense of conflicted morals and serenity. An inner burning fire, and an innate sense wanting to do the right thing despite whatever hurt or pain it uncovers, even in himself.

On parole, Daniel is sent to a small town on the outskirts of nowhere. He is to work in the town sawmill. But in going to the local church, he misrepresents himself as a young clergyman to the Rector. Synchronicity would have it that this works out well for the local Pastor (Luzsak Simlat).He is an alcoholic. If Daniel can step into his shoes for a few weeks, he can dry out.

And so starts the story within the story. The town has recently been torn apart by a motor vehicle accident where five young people died. The other driver was an alcoholic, and he also died. But what were the actual circumstances? There is unbearable grief from the family of the victims. The widow of the driver is a target of hate and abuse. They have not allowed her to bury her husband’s ashes in the town cemetery.

Daniel starts to hear confessional testimony. He googles for advice on what to do on his cell-phone. He is also apprehensive about how long he can continue without being found out. There is a darkness in his past that is coming to meet him for a final resolution.

But in the body of Christ, the truths he slowly uncovers and painfully exposes for the town-people make him paradoxically popular. He becomes a conduit Saviour.

The movie is by no means bleak and grim. There is great humour as the Idiot shows people who they are. He refuses to kow-tow to pressure from the town authority figures, by appearing simple and slightly bloody-minded. He has only got limited time himself anyway.

This is a realist movie and you know violence is never really far away. And it’s not.

The movie has received high praise and nominations from European film festivals. You will feel great coming out of the theatre after this, but you would also feel the price.

Corpus Christi is part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, showing in theatres and online. For tickets/online access, please go HERE:

Rev Orange Peel