I watched 88 of the 91 entries to the International category of the 2020 Academy Awards. Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) is one of my two favorites. The other is Les Misérables. Both of these films are reminders that moral issues are not just black and white. In the case of Corpus Christi, this is literally so because it deals with a young man who steals a priest’s vestments and passes himself off as a real priest.
Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is a 20-year-old who is about to be released from a juvenile detention center where he has been incarcerated for murder. While in the center, he has found religion, thanks to the influence of Father Tomasz. Daniel wants to become a priest himself, but Father Tomasz explains to him that he will never be accepted into a seminary because of his criminal record. Tomasz tells Daniel that he can still do God’s work in the world…and sends him off to a work-release program at a sawmill in a distant village. As soon as Daniel is free, he indulges in alcohol, cocaine and sex.
When Daniel gets off the bus and takes a look at the sawmill from a distance, he can’t bring himself to submit and instead walks into the village church. There he meets a young woman, Marta (Eliza Rycembel), who is the daughter of the woman who takes care of the village’s older priest. Passing himself off as a newly ordained priest, Daniel presents himself as “Father Tomasz” and is welcomed into the priest’s home. The real priest has a drinking problem and needs to go away to a rehabilitation program. He asks Daniel to take care of his duties while he is away. This is a challenge for Daniel, who frantically uses the internet to bone up on priestly duties. The first time he takes confession, he takes advantage of the privacy provided by his side of the confessional to consult his smartphone to get his phrases correct.
Daniel turns out to be a good sermonizer; the villagers take to him and church attendance increases. Daniel soon discovers that there is a moral problem in the village. Before his arrival, a local drunken driver killed seven teenagers, dying himself in the crash. Under pressure from the rich sawmill owner and the families of the victims (one of whom was Marta’s brother), the priest had refused the driver a consecrated burial. His widow, with whom the driver had had an argument just before the accident, has been ostracized by the villagers. Speaking with the younger villagers, Daniel comes to realize that the deceased teenagers were not exactly alcohol- and drug-free themselves. And he believes that Jesus would not have wanted the drunken driver and his widow to be treated as they have been. He begins pressing the case for giving the driver a consecrated burial and allowing his widow to be forgiven and readmitted into the community. However, inevitably, Daniel’s past catches up with him.
Corpus Christi is based on a novel by Mateusz Pacewicz, who also wrote the screenplay, and is directed by Jan Komasa.