Poland’s entry into this year’s Oscar nomination for International Feature Film is Jan Komasa’s (Suicide Room, Warsaw ’44). Just this week it was announced that the film made it to the shortlist of 10 out of the 91 submitted. It also screened this fall at TIFF, which is a good sign as many Oscar winning films come out of this film festival. Pretty impressive stuff for a small film coming out of Poland.
20-year-old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia – The High Frontier, I Am Lying Now) is not someone who would come to mind when you predict a spiritual awakening in people. First, he is in a youth detention centre and second, he has led a rather violent life up to this point. Yet, while in detention that is exactly what happens to him.
Feeling a calling he turns to the centre’s priest Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat – The Iron Bridge, The Butler), only to have his dreams squashed when he is told he cannot become a priest due to his criminal record.
Upon his release he is sent to begin training as a carpenter’s apprentice. This is not at all what Daniel wants to do with his future and so does not give up his dream of becoming a priest.
In a case of mistaken identity and the fortuitous wearing a white collar, he arrives in a small town having them believe that he is a priest. When the village’s long time priest has to go away in an attempt to get sober/healthy, this is Daniel’s chance. He now has his own church and congregation.
As time goes by Daniel becomes more confident. He begins to bring a divided small village together. Helping them to heal after a tragedy. The people in the town need an injection of spirituality and Daniel believes he can provide them with just that.
We are told in the beginning that the film is inspired by true events, so the idea of this happening is not as far out as some would believe. Looking past the how, when and why, the important part of the film is the questions it asks. Like who gets to decide who can be an earthly representation of God? Where does spirituality belong in different people’s lives? Can someone who we have labeled as a bad person do good things?
Themes like salvation, redemption, sacrifice, morality, judgement, forgiveness, prejudices, and comfort are all over the place here. While some might be turned off by the religious nature of the film, if you give it a chance it is really about universal human themes.
Capping things off is the fiery portrayal of Daniel by Bielenia. Even when still his piercing blue eyes show his character’s passion. His acting helps you through the times when the story and film drag a little.