Just around this time with the Oscars drawing closer, you would’ve thought my interest in the foreign films would be finished, right? When I saw Polish film Corpus Christi was playing, it caught my intrigue with the story. I thought it was worth seeing.
The film begins in a juvenile prison. Prisoners are prone to the same harsh actions, beatings and retaliations of other prisoners. 20 year-old Daniel knows he could be one. He killed someone when he was a teenager and was sentenced to juvenile prison, or ‘juvie’ as it’s commonly called, for manslaughter. Daniel has found a personal escape in religion. A priest, Father Tomasz, performs mass at the prison every Sunday. Daniel is the most willing participant as he even sings Psalm 23 for the mass. Every night he prays the rosary. Parole is nearing for him, which is a relief as one of his fellow prisoners named ‘Pinczer’ is threatening him. He wants to become a priest, but Father Tomasz says he can’t because of his criminal past. They’re not allowed in the seminary. As soon as Daniel achieves parole, it’s obvious he’s not ready for the priesthood as he happily does drugs and has sex at parties. He does however own a priest’s shirt.
For his parole, Daniel has to do sawmill work at a mill in a small Polish town specifically for parolees. He notices a church and introduces himself as ‘Father Tomasz’ to a young girl praying named Eliza and introduces himself as ‘Father Tomasz.’ He’s then introduced to her mother Lidia, the church secretary, and the ailing priest. Daniel is given the job to perform priestly duties. Daniel’s first mass goes excellently, and people believe him to be the temporary priest. Daniel soon notices as he walks around town people praying to a memorial to six young people. They died in a car accident which the driver hit them head-on. The image of the driver, who also died, is not on the memorial.
Over time, Daniel becomes more involved in the community with each mass he serves. He even wins the liking of the town mayor. Daniel even takes the opportunity to help those that constantly pray by the memorial to help overcome their feelings. Eliza and Lidia are among those as Jakub, Lidia’s son and Eliza’s brother, was one of the fatalities. He also notices how some people shout ‘the whore’ when dealing with their grief. He finds out people have been directing their anger to the driver’s widow. When meeting with the widow, he learns that people have been sending her hate-mail.
Daniel tries to think of a solution, but he later learns Pinczer, one of his rivals from prison who was called ‘Bonus,’ knows he’s posing as a priest. He demands 5000 Euros or else he will expose the truth of ‘Father Tomasz.’ Daniel tries to continue on as a priest and even works at making the town confront their unnecessary anger to the widow by showing them all the hate-mail they sent her. Soon her husband is given a proper burial and is attended by all: even those that lost a child in the accident. However it soon becomes apparent that Daniel’s secret will be exposed. It does happen and the aftermath becomes a case where you can watch and draw your own conclusions about the town, Eliza and Daniel.
One thing that caught my attention is that this film is based on true events. It may not be a true story, but it is of a collection of true events. Director Jan Komasa made mention in a Los Angeles Times interview that he has taken notice that there are several unordained men who have posed as priests. Many of those men believe they are doing priestly duties for the right reasons. The issue of fake priests is one that the clergy in Poland know of, but they sweep the issue under the rug. Scriptwriter Mateusz Pacewicz said in the same interview that he became very fixated about the idea of these fake priests and their spiritual passion. He even wrote a short story of it and that would lead him to write the screenplay for this film.
This is a film that will cause a lot of people with strong Catholic values to think a lot about. Some may even be outraged of a positive depiction of a fake priest. What we have here is a young man who found himself in God possibly through prison ministry. Daniel has this problem with him as he’s a killer and he’s reminded his past crimes will not allow him into the seminary. However he sees the town where he is to do his parole duties as his chance to be a priest. We should remember during his short time as a priest, he didn’t do anything to hurt the citizens of the town. He didn’t rob from the people, he didn’t disturb any masses. Instead he became a symbol of help and hope. He helped the townspeople overcome the losses they were enduring. He got the people to stop with their unnecessary hostilities towards the widow of the killer. He even helped the widow get back to being accepted rather than be the subject of a town’s wrath.
The film allows to both question and even make your own judgments about what happens in the story. First off it makes you wonder if Daniel posed as a priest because he feels he was meant to be one or to avoid an act of vengeance from the other parolees at the sawmill. It’s not made obvious but one can even sense in the film that Eliza always knew Daniel was not ‘Father Tomasz.’ I sensed that in the scene where Daniel was asked for his priest card and she says it’s in the laundry she was working with. Even that sex scene between Eliza and Daniel suggests that; an ordained priest would not have sex or else we would be forced to resign. However Eliza knew Daniel was the right man to bring peace to the town. Eliza also wanted healing along with the people of the town, including hard-hearted Lidia. Eliza felt she knew Tomasz could bring healing and was the only other person who felt making peace with the killer’s widow and allowing a dignified burial of his ashes can make the town heal.
The ending will especially get one thinking as what has happened and what has happened next for Eliza and Daniel. Even as Daniel learns after being recaptured that he was meant to be a criminal, he should be thankful he was able to be a priest and had the chance to do the right things while doing so. It’s possible being a priest during that time brought out his best personal traits while prison brought out his worst traits. It’s interesting to see that a killer who poses as a priest was the one that got the town to heal from the tragedy.
I commend the direction of the film by Komasa and the script by Pacewicz. This is a story that will keep you interested from start to finish. It has a lot to say and will allow one to draw their own conclusions of what the overall message of the film is. I don’t think the film is too critical of religion. We should remember Poland is a very religious country and the only European country where more than half of the population (65% to be exact) attends religious service at least once a month. Showing an anti-Catholic film in Poland is sure to spark outrage. I do feel both Komasa and Pacewicz were trying to make a critical statement without being disrespectful to the Roman Catholic Church. The statement being in Poland, anyone can be a priest.
Also excellent acting from Bartosz Bielenia. He did a great job as a man with immense faith but had something to hide. Eliza Rycembel was also very good at playing Eliza. She was good at knowing the truth of Daniel but being supportive in silent manner. Also very good was Alexandra Konieczna. Her best parts were the moments where she didn’t speak, but you call tell her emotions by her body language. Actually the acting from all involved was very believable and very good at telling the story. They were all very good at showing extreme emotion without going over the top.
Corpus Christi is the twelfth film representing Poland to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film (formerly Best Foreign Language Film).’ It was a highlight at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, it won the Edipo Re Award at last year’s Venice Film Festival, and Bielenia won the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Actor at this past Palm Springs Film Festival as well as the Best Actor award at the Stockholm Film Festival.
Corpus Christi is remarkable as it’s a film that will leave you asking more questions than giving you answers about the story. The film will also get you thinking about morality and how people judge others, or how flawed people deal with their feelings. You will be left thinking at the end.
Ellwood, Gregory. “Scammers or spiritually motivated, fake priests figure in Poland’s ‘Corpus Christi.'” Los Angeles Times. 1 Jan 2020. <https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2020-01-01/corpus-christi-delves-into-fake-priest-trend-in-poland>
“You’ve only got this time in your life to be young and stupid, so go for it!”
-my advise to young people
Winter Flies is the third of three entries in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars I saw at the VIFF. This Czech film is one that will surprise you.
The film starts on a winter’s day with a young boy carrying what appears to be a gun and wearing an outfit that makes him look like a bear. Turns out it’s a pellet gun. The boy’s name is Hedus. Soon an Audi arrives. It’s driven by a teenage boy with a shaved head named Mara. Despite the meeting together starting on a bad note, Mara decides to invite Hedus along.
The film then flashes to a police office. Mara has just been arrested for grand theft auto of that Audi. The female police officer, Officer Freiwaldova, is not impressed with Mara. He’s 15 and has a pregnant girlfriend back home, or at least he claims so. The film goes frequently from their ‘road trip’ to Mara being interrogated. They interrogate him about the trip and as well about the pink female sweater they found in the car.
Flashing back to the trip, Hedus drams of joining the French legion and asks Mara advise over girls. Mara acts like he knows it all, but soon they spot a girl on the road. She’s an older girl named Bara and looks like she’s abused. However she accepts a ride from the two as they don’t appear too threatening. During the trip, they stop at a park near a small lake. Hedus is having fun being up a tree and talking to Mara. Meanwhile a man is trying to sell them a dog. The boy laugh it off, only for the laughter to end when it appears the man is trying to drown the dog. They go to the rescue of the dog and Hedus even fires his pellet gun at the man. The dog is now theirs.
Back at the police office, Freiwaldova tries to get Mara to map out the trip, but he refuses and even hits on the Officer. Freiwaldova is frustrated with dealing with Mara. This is a long process as the Officer keeps on asking questions as she’s smoking cigarettes she puts in an ashtray with a fly in it. Continuing on the trip, the three come to a man who’s willing to give the three shelter for the night. They think it’s okay, and Bara sees no problem as long as she can protect herself. However things go wrong when they notice the man is about to rape her. That’s when Hedus and Mara act in and start acting violently to the man. They then take off again. However it’s soon where Hedus tries coming onto Bara. It’s there where she demands to be let out. So that’s all that’s left in the trip. The two boys, the dog and Bara’s pink perfume-scented sweater for them to masturbate over.
Overnight doesn’t seem to stop them. They learn they’re in a self-driving Audi as it can drive itself even while Mara is asleep at the wheel! In the morning, Mara learns they’re close to the town where his grandfather lives. However when they get to his house, Mara find his grandfather on the floor suffering from a heart attack. Mara, more concerned for anyone, gets his grandfather to a nearby hospital. Flashing back to the interrogation scenes, Freiwaldova is hoping to use this incident to find out more information about Mara. She calls the hospital to find out the name and tells Mara one of the men died last night. That makes Mara cry and confess information. It’s right after that where she admits she lied and says she did it to get any info out of him. No doubt Mara is pissed off.
Reflecting back to the trip, the Audi does eventually find itself caught by police in a small Czech town. It’s only a matter of time that the car is stopped and Mara is arrested. Hedus was nowhere to be seen. It’s the end of the road for Mara with him being at the police office, or is it? Hedus is outside the police office and the Audi is close outside. Hedus also found a ladder that reaches up to the office Mara is interrogated in. Hedus is sly enough to fire his pellet gun on all the police vehicles. That’s enough to distract all the officers and leave Mara alone in the office. Alone except for the fly in the ashtray coming back to life. Then Hedus climbs up the ladder and tries to get Hedus to escape. They’re back on the road again!
We should really hate those two jerks. One is stupid with an overactive imagination. The other is an irresponsible rebel with complete disrespect to just about everyone, including the police. We should also hate the two at the very end. However one critic made a point that I agreed with. They said the two make the rebellion and the irresponsibilities of adolescence look charming and even funny. I have to agree because that is the magic of art. It can take characters that we would look down on in the real world and make them look likable and even charming. We see that here as Mara does bring out the charm of the anti-authority jerk we really should hate. Hedus also brings out the charm of the weird boy with an over-the-top wild imagination. That was what the story is about in a nutshell: two adolescent misfits on a wild ride.
The film not only brings out the characters’ charms but may also remind us of our own adolescent ‘glory days.’ There are many scenes that were funny and hilarious, but would look terrible or disgusting in real life. Like when Mara is being a jerk to the officer, or when the two start hitting on Bara right after she was about to be raped the night before, or even when the two masturbate over Bara’s perfume-scented sweater. It’s a guilty pleasure to laugh at moments of stupidity like that because they will remind us of us and our own stupidities. I’m sure you remember the days you used to flip the tweeter to whoever you wanted! The film has other humorous moments as well like when the fly in the cigarette ashes appears to come back to life or when the two boys are able to sleep in the self-driving Audi with no problem. The latter should also be symbolic as it appears the two boys appear to be on a trip to nowhere. Maybe they don’t really care if they don’t have a destination, as long as they’re away. That’s another joy of being young: venturing into the unknown.
One thing to take note is that even though the two are characters of teens we should hate, Mara does show some vulnerability. One case is when a man is about to drown a dog. Mara gets Hedus to fire his pellet gun at the man while Mara goes to rescue the dog. Also that scene where Mara and Hedus are seen helping their grandfather who is having a heart attack. It sends you the message that Mara does have a heart, despite his rebellion and carelessness. Also that scene where Mara is crying when he thinks his grandfather has died shows he still has a child-like innocence in him that comes out when you least expect it. Those are scenes that bring out Mara’s redeeming qualities and make you actually like him and feel for him. He’s not the heartless jerk we’re first led to believe he is.
We should give a lot of respect to Slovenian-born director Olmo Omerzu and Petr Pycha. Who would’ve thought this was Pycha’s first ever feature-length script? Pycha’s story and Omerzu’s direction help make this film and its characters entertaining and charming in ways you least expect it. Tomas Mrvik was very good at the young protagonist Mara. This is Mrvik’s first film but he succeeds in making Mara hatable, but charming at the same time. Also acting for the first time is Jan Frantisek Uher. He did the idiocy of Hedus very well and surprised us all in showing Hedus is trickier than we thought. Lenka Vlasakova was excellent as Officer Freiwaldova. She did an excellent job in delivering the more dramatic parts and made them work for the film.
Winter Flies is the Czech Republic’s entry for this year’s Academy Awards for the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film was nominated for the Crystal Globe for Best Film at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival where Omerzu won Best Director. The film is also quite remarkable for including a lot of elements in a story of teenagers most teen films, especially those made by the Hollywood system, wouldn’t include. Stealing an Audi, allowing it to self-drive while asleep at the wheel, teen boys talking about getting ‘pussy,’ the two masturbating and climaxing in their pants, I doubt Hollywood would dare to make a teen-themed film with scenes like those!
Winter Flies is a humorous story. However the funniest thing about the film is that it makes likable characters out of two we should really hate!