Poland’s Oscar submission this year for Best International Feature Film, Corpus Christi was inspired by real events that one would never think are real.
Directed by Jan Komasa, from a script by Mateusz Pacewicz, the drama centers on Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), a 20-year-old who experiences a spiritual awakening while in a Youth Detention Center. Barred from entering the seminary as a result of his crimes, the young man finds work at a carpenter’s shop following his release, while refusing to give up on his dream of becoming a priest.
“There’s several cases each year of people pretending to be priests in small communities in Poland. I guess it’s like Christian Halloween or something,” Komasa said, joining Bielenia and Deadline’s Dino-Ray Ramos for a panel discussion on the film at The Contenders Los Angeles. “I didn’t know about [this phenomenon], but apparently it’s a thing. With this case, [though], it was different, because this guy really wanted to become [a priest]. And he felt a calling.”
For Bielenia, the appeal of the character of Daniel was his mysteriousness and complexity. “You don’t know his story. His story starts when the film starts. He’s building himself from the things that he sees, he’s stealing [an] identity from the priests that he meets in the juvenile center,” the actor explained. “So, he’s constructing himself, all the time.”
To Komasa, making Corpus Christi was about leaving his “liberal bubble”—“going out and meeting other people, to see how polarized we are today,” he said. Shooting the pic in what he called “the Bible Belt of Poland,” the director was disheartened to discover how difficult it ended up being to make. “People were very welcoming on the surface, but we felt that they didn’t trust us much. Before filming, we were trying to get permission to shoot in the church, and we didn’t get [it], because [the church authorities] decided, after reading the script, that it’s anti-Christian, anti-Catholic,” the director shared. Telling a story centered on the Christian holiday of Corpus Christi, Komasa wound up needing to resort to CGI, for shots as simple as the opening of a church door.
In terms of a takeaway from his latest feature, the director hopes that it will bring people back together, in communities that are divided. “We live in divided societies. I know that America is divided, your politics are polarized,” he said. “So, bringing people back together, with this outside point of view—someone who wants to spread love, and wants to spread acceptance—is the most important part, for me, of this.”
Premiering in the Venice Days section of the Venice Film Festival—where it won the Edipo Re Award, as well as the Label Europa Cinemas prize—the Film Movement title will hit theaters in the U.S. later this year.