It’s Festival time baby! With Lotterywest Films in full swing, Fringe World kicking off this weekend, and the Perth Festival main programme around the corner, we are beyond excited for the most dynamic time of year in Perth for the arts; and how lucky we are to be able to enjoy these events almost as normal. We’re thrilled to be kicking off our festivals coverage with a review of Corpus Christi from Boa Antahputro.
Occasionally I come across a film that reminds me of the power of films. One that reminds me what a beautiful and valuable artistic expression the medium truly is. One that uses the medium to its full potential with no punches pulled. After watching one of these films, I reaffirm my allegiance to the cult of cinema. I watch, then I say to myself: Yes. I believe. And after watching Jan Komasa’s Corpus Christi (2020) – oh boy do I believe.
This Polish film centres around Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), a recently released juvenile delinquent who is given employment at a local sawmill. Instead of taking the job, he wanders astray and comes upon the church of a small town. He enters and a stranger teases him as just another lost worker. Perhaps insulted, perhaps seeing an opportunity for a new start, Daniel denies his past and says, “I’m a priest”.
As he himself states, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you’re going,” and I was gripped to see where he went from there.
Soon embroiled in the responsibilities of a parish priest, Daniel is portrayed masterfully by Bielenia. Rather than being evidence of inconsistent writing, his contradictory actions and behaviour instead come across as a wonderful portrait of the internal conflict an individual has in the struggle to become a better person. Bielenia’s performance breathes much of the life into this film, but that is not to say that other characters are lacking. Far from it. If the sum of all actors in this film constitutes a living body, each represents an organ functioning to near perfection, with Bielenia as its heart. Each character is portrayed with a nuance and reticence that produces an authentic image of individuals with troubled and tortured. Apart from ‘Bonus’, who is perhaps the only one-dimensional character throughout the entire film, each performance has depth and a harrowing complexity worth watching on its own. However, thankfully, they weren’t on their own.
Supplementing these wonderful performances is the inspired visual storytelling of Komasa. His directing in Corpus Christi represents quintessential sufficiency. He doesn’t do too much or too little; the proverbial bed is made just right. He allows his actors to perform scenes without unnecessary over-editing, and shots linger long enough so that a slight change of expression delivers volumes of information.
Instead of being bland, the under-saturated and hazy lighting present throughout most of the film invigorates the brighter scenes. Fire and sunshine strike the eye with a heightened intensity. As for sound, Daniel himself says, “silence can be prayer too”, and it is in silence that many of the film’s most heavenly moments come. But when sound does come, it is full of fury. Komasa’s directing, the thematically appropriate cinematography, and the aforementioned performances often all coalesce to provide scenes of divine merit.
The heavy dose of religious elements in the film may put off some people. However, although Christianity – in particular, Roman Catholicism – is central to the film, one need not be Christian nor religious to appreciate the thematic explorations present throughout Corpus Christi. Guilt, redemption, the struggle to do right and wrong: these ideas transcend Christianity. The adage ‘to forgive and to forget’ is the central conflict of the film and all of us understand how easy it is to fail in doing either. What better way to explore these challenges than to present a story of a troubled juvie turned faux priest? However, it is not all doom and gloom; there are moments of brevity and tenderness in Corpus Christi that I believe make it accessible to anyone with patience. Juvie turned priest is comedic by nature.
Watching this film was certainly something near to a religious experience for me. My friend, a reserved individual, who was with me at the screening, turned to me at the conclusion of the film and said, “Bro. I cried.”
He, like me, watches a lot of films and, later in the night, said, “I might’ve just watched one of the top five films I’ve ever watched.” I wouldn’t place it in my top five, but I do agree that it is a masterpiece. You may not have the same ecstasy we had at its end, but I believe you will have a wonderful experience either way.
You need not believe in God to like or perhaps love Corpus Christi; you need only believe in film.
4.5/5 God-Fearing Pelicans
Corpus Christi shows Monday 18 – Sunday 24 January at Somerville Auditorium.
Words by Boa Antahputro.
Photo courtesy of Perth Festival.