Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
Original title: Boze Cialo
Poland, 2019. Aurum Film, WFS Walter Film Studio, Canal+ Polska, Podkarpacki Fundusz Filmowy, Les Contes modernes, Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee. Screenplay by Mateusz Pacewicz. Cinematography by Piotr Sobocinski Jr.. Produced by Leszek Bodzak, Aneta Cebula-Hickinbotham. Music by Evgueni Galperine, Sacha Galperine. Production Design by Marek Zawierucha. Costume Design by Dorota Roqueplo. Film Editing by Przemyslaw Chruscielewski. Academy Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2019.
Daniel has spent years in juvenile detention and is now in danger when an old rival is incarcerated with him, prompting the institution’s priest to put him up for parole. Part of the deal of being spared any more time in this place where violence thrives is that he work at a sawmill in a small town, but when he arrives at his destination, he skips the job and heads straight for the nearest church. While in juvie, Daniel experienced a spiritual calling that he told the priest inspired him to want to attend the seminary, but his criminal past would never allow him to become an actual priest, so pretending to be one has to do for compensation in this back of beyond town whose residents won’t know any better. As luck would have it, the ruse works, the church’s actual priest takes ill, and Daniel finds himself giving Sunday sermons to the community while still drinking beers with the local kids. The community he has arrived at has a deep and heavy rift, torn apart by a car accident that killed a number of its young people, and grief has made the residents cruel to each other. Over the course of this moody though not probing drama, Daniel’s own checkered past will inform his compulsion to speak the word of God to a group of people who are committed to their religion but aren’t examining their morality, dealing with his own conflicts while forcing his parishioners to resolve theirs. Filmed in a stark, drab style that emphasizes lead actor Bartosz Bielenia’s lightning-blue eyes against colourless backdrops, the film sometimes relies too much on powerful visuals and doesn’t always back them up with saturating content; his religious compulsion is described beautifully by the imagery but what is actually making him tick is hard to understand, nor is the idea of him as an ironic Christlike figure a particularly challenging theme. Where we arrive in the film’s rather overdue conclusion is difficult to understand, but director Jan Komasa does get points for combining the plots of lighthearted films like Chocolat and Sister Act and still finding a dark and moody way to tell them.