Updated: Oct 19, 2020
Director: Jan Komasa
Another one of those films that touches all the trigger points of life, Komasa’s ‘Corpus Christi’ explores the fault lines of our culture, our institutions and our emotions.
When I saw Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion’ I was amazed that none of the critics picked up that Mel was essentially – and extremely viscerally – taking us through the brutal steps of the ritual Stations of the Cross via the film medium. Something with which every child of my era who went through a Catholic education system was more than au fait. Brutal stuff; the scourging at the pillar where Christ lost a lot of his skin to a barbed whip, the crowning of thorns where a spiked crown was literally dug into his skull, the abject exhaustion of a man carrying an over-sized cross towards Cavalry, and so on. I’m sure Catholic kids had more nightmares than most, but we also had a well-oiled ability to grasp and hold the physical, the symbolic and metaphysical as easily as to chew gum and genuflect.
The modern day film of faith, ‘Corpus Christi’ has more than a touch of that brutal rendering to illustrate its contemporary take on that violent old tragedy … and though this version will resonate more with a less formally faith aligned audience, it still contains the idea of group transformational redemption through great sacrifice, and the very real world notions of institutional corruption and inadequacy.
Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) is a ‘Juvie’. He has been serving time in a Juvenile penitentiary and we meet him standing guard while a fellow inmate is being brutally raped by the other young prisoners. It is an appalling scene and almost impossible to forget.
The brutality and complicity of life working against these ‘juvies’, these kids like Daniel who frequently come from troubled and violent homes and who repeat the sins of their parents in hopeless generational repetition – theft, violence, drugs …over and over again – is brought home in spades in 'Corpus Christi'.
Daniel has embraced faith while in prison and the prison priest is impressed by his devotion. Though Daniel wishes to take final vows, he is told that his criminal record excludes him from this calling. We realise pretty soon that were Daniel able to take up this calling he would do a huge amount of good in the world – as circumstances actually lead him to impersonate a priest in a small community. While playing this role, Daniel pulls the entire village congregation from the deepest despair by brokering genuine forgiveness in an environment of real pain. Not a small feat. Some might even call this pathway to healing relationships that have been seemingly irrevocably broken close to a miracle.
But Daniel is ‘outed’. And it is at this point we realise that though he has metaphorically saved the village Daniel will be crucified regardless, for he is a 'Juvie' and he has already been damned by this world.
Todd Phillips' film 'Joker’ tried to frame this message of relentless cultural and institutional bastardisation begetting brutality but, because of its sensationalised delivery, it missed its mark as it came off as gratuitous. 'Corpus Christi' totally nails it with psychological depth, brilliant casting and acting, and glorious cinematography.
'Corpus Christi' is so full of twists, turns and brilliance you won’t want to leave, regardless of those moments when your senses are completely violated.
Genuinely powerful cinema.