Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi ★★★½

Daniel wants to be a priest, unfortunately no seminary admits (former) convicts, Father Tomasz tells the young inmate from the juvenile detention center where he met him during his sermons. There are other ways to do good, Tomasz tells Daniel. And indeed, once he is released from prison, Daniel goes on to do a lot of good without being a priest. Only pretending to be one.

Boże Ciało is a wonderful film about forgiveness, growth and the true meaning of Christianity. Director Jan Komasa handles all of these topics well, prepares a serious story about a tragic event but sprinkles it with warm humor and hope. Structured around a traumatic car accident that killed six teenagers and one man, a small village seems on the brink, tumbling into nothingness, the local vicar being unable to bring the townsfolk together.

It is rather ironic, that while Daniel uses religion and the Church to ultimately teach his parish forgiveness, the Church itself doesn't muster said forgiveness in regards to Daniel's former crimes to allow him to dedicate his life to the teachings of Christ. Daniel himself in the process of the story not only helps the community to heal and deal with their tragedy, he in addition seems to be able to heal himself. To rid himself from his prior life, to forgive but not forget the man he was.

Daniel's growth proceeds a lot faster than the community's, which is unable to allow the widow of the involved party of the death of their children back amongst their midst. It is telling, that even though Daniel at one point briefly brings it up – without persisting –, the insinuation lies in the air that the kids, dedicating their evening to alcohol and cocaine in the hours leading to their death, are actually the faulty party; but blame is averted.

"Many people, few believers" are living in his parish, the vicar tells Daniel in the beginning, before leaving him in charge to get a physical. Daniel then proceeds to raise believers in the community, not so much by (literally) following the book but adjusting to the situation at hand. In an amusing scene he checks the internet on his cell while taking confessions the first time. Yet in the same scene starts to follow his own path by telling a mother who asks for atonement not to pray some Hail Marys for beating her child but rather to spend some time with it.

Due to not knowing the conventions of the Church Daniel operates outside of them. And subsequently connects with the whole town, dedicating himself to the grief process of the parents, which the film repeatedly returns to, but also the community in general. It is only in one of the final scenes of the film when Father Tomasz caught up with Daniel and goes through his complimentary gifts that we see the extent of Daniels reach in the parish (amongst them a fundraiser for a sick child). Just by being himself, trying to do good, Daniel seemingly was a better vicar to the community than the actual vicar.

"Doesn't matter where you're coming from. All that matters is where you're going", Daniel tells Marta when they first meet. In other words: instead of looking in the past you gotta look into the future. But some things seems unshakable, like Daniel's rap sheet – or the fact that priests can't have sex. It's a stupid law, Daniel admits while talking to some adolescents. But: "Rules are rules", he acknowledges. Rules are also there to be broken, so Boże Ciało operates in a sort of grey zone when Daniel later on, despite not really being a vicar, breaks his reputed celibacy.

Watching this film as an atheist one might think what the big deal is, if instead of one guy talking about fairy tales another dude steps in. The parish itself and also Father Tomasz though as devout Catholics surely take it very seriously. So the anger Father Tomasz feels once he's in the loop seems understandable. A bit more depth to his character or a scene with heavier realization would've been nice. After all it was Father Tomasz who told the inmates at juvie that "each of us is the priest of Christ". One thing Komasa doesn't even go into is the fact that Tomasz seemingly has a deal with Walkiewicz, sending him cheap labor for his sawmill with the former detainees (although maybe Walkiewicz is just exploiting this without Tomasz' knowledge).

One thing though I did struggle both in my original viewing and this rewatch: the final scene. It feels like a step back for the character, seemingly dropping all the growth from the 100 minutes before. The scene is based on a lot of emotion and a tragedy in its own right. One that couldn't really be resolved beforehand, yet I kind of wished Daniel would be more of an advocate for it after his experiences. Maybe I somehow just hope that it would play out more like the fight between Dragline and Luke in Cool Hand Luke – but maybe I'm just not reading that ending right.