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.
Ever since I missed the opportunity to watch Rafiki at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, I’ve been meaning to rectify that mistake. The good folks at Film Movement recently released Rafiki on DVD, giving me an opportunity to watch this beautiful film.
Directed by Wanuri Kahiu, Rafiki follows the story of two Kenyan girls, Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) and Ziki (Sheila Munyiva). One day Kena spots the stunning Ziki. She stands out with her brightly colored long hair. The pair lock eyes and are instantly smitten. Kena and Ziki come from two different worlds albeit in the same community. Tensions between Kena’s divorced parents heighten when Kena and her mom find out that her dad’s new girlfriend is expecting. Ziki and Kena start dating and soon begin to fall in love. The risk of being caught comes with potentially severe consequences. Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya and looked down upon in the community. Not only that, Kena and Ziki’s fathers are political rivals and in a small town with an election on the horizon, rumors fly and the two must face the possibility of being found out.
Rafiki is a gorgeously haunting film that is equal parts heart-breaking and hopeful. The two stars Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva shine and I hope to see much more from them. The actors alternate between Swahili and English and Kena and Ziki mostly speak English to each other. The film has a strong sense of place and beautiful color palette. It’s vibrant and full of life. It’s simple yet bold.
The story lingers on Kena and Ziki’s relationship giving the audience an opportunity to spend a lot of time in their world. We develop an appreciation for their attraction to each other on a physical and emotional level which makes their separation all that more painful. Don’t worry. This film will not destroy you. It will fill you with hope for Kena and Ziki and for the future. Rafiki was banned in Kenya and soon became a darling on the festival circuit. We need to keep championing this film. Watch it. Love it. Share it far and wide.
Film Movement’s DVD includes a beautiful presentation of the film and includes subtitles. A bonus short film, Hudson directed by Shae Xu is included. That film tells the story of a divorced mom who struggles to introduce her teenage son to her new girlfriend.