Corpus Christi, written by 27-year-old Mateusz Pacewicz, probes a thought-provoking clerical question: what makes someone qualifies as a Catholic priest? Aside from the long seminarian study and some formal background check (this would include marital and criminal history), there’s almost no natural qualification to deem someone a priest material. There’s this priesthood vocation—some sort of God’s call for someone to shepherd the churches—plays part in the making of a priest. But, what if someone hears and answers to the divine vocation but, according to historical record on paper, is ineligible to become a priest?
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The person in question is Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), a 20-year-old juvie who receives an epiphany while serving in a prison. He wants to be a priest, but the prison’s priest and his mentor explains that his criminal record would not allow him to join the clergy. While on parole and tasked for a work on a sawmill in a rural Polish town, he walks into a local church and finds his answer to God’s call a way. He puts on the robe, wears the collar, and tells the right lies to get him taking over a local parish after the vicar (Zdzislaw Wardejn) falling ill. Daniel takes his mentor’s identity, Father Tomasz, and begins performing clerical duties, including performing mass, hearing confessions, and other parochial work. He may not take seminarian and theological study, but his views of life surprisingly inspires the parish.
In a story with stirring moral ambiguity as it is, Bielenia comes as a perfectly complex compass. His compelling performance never lets off even at the story’s slowest moving moment because the story’s ambiguous nature persists even at its peaceful moment. The thing about Bielenia’s Daniel is, he’s keen on his duty as a priest. He takes everything seriously even when his preaching is loose and his candid opinion doesn’t always align with the church. His unorthodox methods inspire the grief-stricken parish to stand on their feet again; but, at the same time, it irks them as he begins to unravel hypocrisies among the congregation.
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Daniel is a complex and multi-layered character; but, never a tedious one. What makes him a likeable figure is the fact that he speaks from his young, boiling heart. He’s not aware of the power he wields as a shepherd of the congregation; therefore, he accidentally lowers the barrier between the priest and the parish members—something that a real priest barely does. However, as he delves deeper into the community, he begins to understand the force that comes with his responsibility. The thing is, he barely gets his responsibility. He does everything he thinks is right instinctively; sometimes, what he does ends with surprisingly decent results. And yet, that doesn’t negate the fact that he’s an impostor and his hot-headed self is prone to temptation.
The impostor’s interaction with all layers of the community including the top cream of it and the younger ones poses poignant commentaries to how the church runs in the modern era. It makes a provoking satire to the clerical distance between church and the parish. Corpus Christi also unravels how church often compels to do what is necessary and not what is right. The final redemption of the story might not lead to the imaginable realm, but it’s perfect to conclude this cleverly written drama with a sense of elusiveness.