Set in Poland on New Year’s Eve 1999, Prime Time stars Bartosz Bielenia as Sebastian, a troubled young man who breaks into a major Polish television studio. He takes a security guard and on air hostess hostage and demands that he be broadcast live to the nation. With gun in hand and a note in his pocket, he battles with the television producers and the hostage negotiators who will do anything to prevent him from reading his message. The situation gets more volatile as the night progresses, leaving Sebastian in a bind.
Directed by Jakub Piątek, Prime Time seems to have an important message to offer but ultimately fails to deliver. It eschews the conventional approach to a hostage thriller. Tension is palpable yet muted and the film moves along at a steady rather than frenzied pace. Bartosz Bielenia, who starred in the excellent Polish drama Corpus Christi, is magnificent as the disturbed Sebastian who is anything but a villain. However, the viewer never really gets to know his character. We’re left wondering about his motivation. Ultimately he is a relatable character whom we empathize with but the impetus for his actions are unclear. It leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.
Prime Time had its world premiere at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
20 year old Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) has just been released from a juvenile delinquent center where he was incarcerated for a violent crime. Upon his release, he is sent far away from his native Warsaw, Poland to a remote village to work. Instead of taking a job at the local sawmill, he pretends to be a priest in training. Daniel had reconnected with his Catholic faith through the help of the jail’s priest Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat). When the local priest (Zdzislaw Wardejn) takes ill, Daniel takes over. The village he now oversees is reeling from the death of several teens in a head on collision with a local drunk. The widow (Barbara Kurzaj) receives menacing letters from the teens families and its up to Daniel to help heal the divide. Things get complicated when he falls for parishioner Eliza (Eliza Rycembel) and when an old nemesis from jail threatens to reveal Daniel’s secret.
“For Daniel, spiritual guidance is the only pure thing left in his life. I see his actions as a desperate attempt to tell the world what he would do if he were given a second chance.”
Corpus Christi is simply brilliant. Directed by Jan Komasa, this enthralling yet quiet film is based on a real phenomena of fake priests in Poland. Bartosz Bielenia delivers a captivating performance as the charismatic yet troubled Daniel. His story is bookmarked with violence. He is the victim of a broken system. Even though Daniel is an impostor, he’s also just what the village needs. Someone who will not only connect with them on an emotional level but also challenge them to open their minds and to find forgiveness in their hearts. I was quite moved by this story. I don’t know what I was expecting out of Corpus Christi but I can tell you that by the end I was blown away.
Corpus Christi is nominated for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Academy Awards. It’s currently screening at select cities. Visit the Film Movement website for more details.