Based on a true story, Corpus Christi is the tale of 20-year-old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) who, just sprung from a violent juvenile detention center and heading for a new job, decides to visit the local church and stumbles into becoming the new priest for the small Polish town. It’s the story of his redemption, but also that of his new flock, a community healing from a tragedy that has divided them against themselves. Once he’s committed to the ruse as the impostor Father Tomasz, Daniel slips into the cassock and wings it well enough to fool the whole town. It’s not a con, so much as a calling. And you’re just wondering how long he can get away with it.

Before he gets out of juvie, Daniel spends time with the jail priest, the real Father Tomasz, and is disappointed to learn that people with a criminal past can’t go to seminary. But when he comes into the local church he meets a young woman who tells him that the saw mill is down the street, assuming he is there to work, which he is, but not wanting to let on, he tells her he’s actually a priest. And so she introduced him to the church’s vicar who shortly afterwards takes ill, and who could possibly sub for him? Daniel isn’t exactly what the parish expects, but they mostly warm to him. He’s a mix of wise and funny and charismatic.

But the town is still reeling from a horrible traffic accident that killed six local teens. And the question of how God could let such a thing happen is one that Daniel explores. Instead of the usual, “It was God’s plan,” he allows that God could make mistakes. And with no training in church orthodoxy, he injects his own philosophy in to his sermons and preaches a more loving forgiveness. And what he doesn’t know, he Googles, which is surprisingly helpful. He’s not perfect. He drinks and smokes with the other young people in the town, and still acts like a teenager at times, but he settles nicely into his priestly role. And then one of his old juvie mates arrives in his confessional and the jig is up. Or is it?

I really liked this film. Bartosz Bielenia has such a beautiful and emotive face and you want his Daniel to succeed. It’s his film. Plus the script is smart and veers in directions you don’t expect and Daniel’s character is wonderfully complex. He’s actually able to understand and help the townspeople because of his own experience with adversity, as well as his instinctual talent for the job. I highly recommend Corpus Christi to foreign film lovers. It was deservedly one of this year’s Academy Award nominees in their renamed Best International Feature Film category.

Apparently in Poland fake priests are a thing. According to the writer, there’s one in the news fairly frequently.

[Mainstream Chick’s take: I liked the majority of this film, though it starts and ends with the type of graphic violence and bleakness that squeamish folks like me tend to shy away from. The drama goes to some dark place but has enough lighter moments to get you through. Polish actor Bartosz Bielenia can be quite captivating to watch, thanks to a pair of incredibly clear and expressive eyes. His character is a study in contrast. Violence, drugs, smoking, and drinking… mixed with charisma, charm, an angelic voice and healing words. He seems to be seeking personal salvation. But you never quite know if it’s real, or as fake as his assumed identity. And/or if he’ll get busted before we find out for sure… -hb]

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