Tue. Sep 17th, 2019

Toronto Review: ‘Corpus Christi’ is a strong Oscar contender for Poland

Courtesy of TIFF

Jan Komasa creates a quiet masterpiece that deserves Best International Feature Oscar attention

Premiering in North America at TIFF, Jan Komasa’s CORPUS CHRISTI is a stunning Polish feature which has made waves at Venice and deserves further global recognition. Poland may have quite the strong Oscar contender with this film which shares the elegance, complexity and layered narrative approach as Oscar favorites THE HUNT (Denmark) and LOVELESS (Russia).

A story that packs an emotional punch while offering fresh themes and interesting perspectives on religion and faith, this is a striking feature that is impressive in every sense of the word and one of the year’s best directed films – foreign or otherwise.

Focusing on a 20-year old boy (Daniel, played with eye-opening excellence by Bartosz Bielenia) who serves a sentence in a youth detention center for a violent crime he had committed, the story follows Daniel’s re-entry into the real world. With detention days behind him, despite being still on probation, he is sent to a far-away village to work in one of its mills. Determined to find an opportunity for a better life, and more importantly more power, he decides to pose as a priest and convinces the town folk of his new identity. But how can such a conservative, traditionalist town cope with a radical, young and liberal priest?

Komasa’s film discusses several key themes related to faith, religion, community ties, power and trust dynamics, but ultimately this is a story about forgiveness; or lack thereof. On one level, convicted juveniles struggle, not only in Poland but elsewhere in the world, for acceptance and forgiveness once they exit their detention centers and hope to lead a new life ahead. On another level, Komasa tackles society’s lack of compassion and inability to forgive, love and move on against the backdrop of a major tragedy that turns the town upside down and leaves Daniel in a crucial position: can he inspire the town folk to practice forgiveness and learn how to love, at a time and in a place that would never forgive him if his true identity is revealed?

This fascinating dilemma is intertwined with a multitude of character development twists and turns that make the film such a stirring tableaux about humanity and acceptance. To say more would spoil the revelatory nature of this film which deserves to be discovered by audiences willing to explore what world cinema has to offer outside the safer, more traditional offerings in multiplexes – and they will surely be deeply rewarded. As the film’s final moments are revealed, and the story threads come together, CORPUS CHRISTI elevates itself into a masterwork that speaks to relevant, timely issues but never feels as though it is trying to be or sound important. In seamlessly and quietly delivering its message, it truly soars.

Featuring brilliant performances and a quietly stunning screenplay which carefully balances its dense themes and characterization, CORPUS CHRISTI has all the hallmarks of a foreign film that travels and finds an audience.

Verdict: A refreshing, touching and thought-provoking masterpiece that should gain awards traction with the right handling. A hidden gem at TIFF and a remarkable third feature from Jan Komasa who has delivered a pitch-perfect film that couldn’t be more timely.

Grade: A

This review is from the 44th Toronto International Film Festival

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