As always, thanks again to Courtney:
The Polish nominee for this year’s Academy Awards is a poignant, emotional drama that follows Daniel, a young man who finds his spiritual self in Christianity while in a juvenile detention centre. The opening scene briefly shows his personality however, as he keeps watch when a guard leaves the room so one sorry inmate can be thrashed by several others. There is not a trace of regret on Daniel’s face. His crime that landed him in juvie initially remains unexplored.
After a mass, the transformation Daniel undertakes is strongly portrayed, his faith unwavering as he dreams of becoming a priest when released. When this time comes however, the priest of the centre repeats an answer to a question he has clearly heard several times from Daniel; given his criminal record, he cannot fulfil his wish to become a priest himself. Of course, this does not stop him from trying.
He is to catch a bus that is headed for a sawmill on the other side of the country, a place where many inmates are sent to work. The film is hesitant to reveal many facts, but this is to the film’s advantage. There is a subtle air of uncertainty and darkness surrounding him, the sawmill he briefly visits and the town he decides to visit.
Soon after learning that the town had recently suffered a tragedy in which six young people were killed in a head on collision, he endeavours to help the families and friends of the victims, despite taking advantage of his fake position as the town’s priest.
Soon, the minister’s wife takes him to meet the minister himself, who is ill and assumes that Daniel is ‘Father ‘Thomasz’, who is to be his replacement. The minister’s wife offers him a bed for the night, but her facial expressions show her uncertainty and mistrust of the young ‘priest’. She isn’t entirely wrong as quick scene shows him pocketing money from the Church donations
He wakes the next morning to see the father very sick, and is asked by his wife to substitute temporarily for confession; his first challenge. He looks at his phone for instructions while listening. Despite his inexperience, his words help those who talk to him.
In a clear allegory to the power of faith, Daniel’s confidence in delivering sermons grows. They are unconventional and untrained – occasionally they are downright theatrical, a vast difference to what the town is accustomed to. However, he is bringing the community together as the pews gradually begin to fill. He tries to heal the people of a broken town, to bring them hope and stability and to restore their faith.
Bartosz Bielenia as Daniel/Father Thomasz, in his first lead role, is magnetic; his is in most scenes, his eyes piercing and intense.
This rebirth of a criminal to what seems like a passionate man of God is foos for discussion. It throws forward interesting questions while deftly avoiding taking a side against or for religion. It offers scenes that show both sides of the coin, exploring the concept of faith. Daniel’s ability as a ‘father’ offers him opportunities to manipulate the towk folk for his own gain. Even if it is ultimately for a good cause, does he truly want to help people, or does he simply want to feel like a good person after a dark past? The other side of course is the power of faith that Daniel’s sermons ressurect. Given the story and subject matter, it isd a very balanced film.
The elephant in the room though is hard to ignore. Daniel is a criminal. Daniel rarely expresses emotion (unless during a sermon) rendering it impossible to know his true intentions. Is his willingness to dress as a priest and help those affected by the crash a ploy to avoid a hard, unrewarding life working at a sawmill? A way to avoid other ex-cons, a way feel important? How much money did he pocket from Church donations?
Or, is he honestly following his dream to become a priest? His emotion and passion for the chruch is clearly legitimate, but to what end? This uncertainty of his final goal, what he is planning, is never clear.
Whether you are religious, spiritually minded or not, this is a captivating, heavy drama that asks us pertinent and timely questions: what do we have faith in? And importantly, how strong is it? Can it be broken by a tragedy such as the one in this film?
If you dislike religion, this is still a movie that needs to be seen given the balanced screenplay which never has any bias to one side: the concept of faith, and what could be considered a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but again it is never clear if he is a wolf.
Even if only to witness the captivating lead role, this is a film that must be seen.
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