Corpus Christi 2019 ★★★½

Watched Oct 172020

joshmatthews’s review published on Letterboxd:

Hard to say whether one should be disappointed in a movie with much potential, or grateful for what it is.

For starters, this is a fake-preacher movie, or a fake priest movie really. Protagonist gets out of “juvie,” which looks like a brutal young man’s prison in Poland, and goes to work at a sawmill near a small town, only he’s mistaken as a priest. By a series of accidents, he becomes the head priest of a local parish. Twenty-five minutes into the movie, he’s gone from prison to administering Mass!

My American antennae went off immediately; we’ve got so many fake-preacher stories over here, plus fraudulent preachers, adulterous preachers, and two-faces galore. 

The movie begins several interesting ideas but, as far as I could see, never explores them as much as I’d prefer. One of those is whether a priest needs to go through seminary and formal training. Why can’t a priest be like the apostles — an ordinary person, even a criminal? In prison, the protagonist hears this idea from his own priest: everybody is an agent of Christ in the world. Okay, so the entire movie is acting out this idea.

And the fake-priest, as you’d expect, is unorthodox in his behavior. He gains respect and attention, wins hearts and minds, acts very young, and performs strangely during Mass. Some of that is reckless, as the untrained would be, and yet some of that recklessness introduces a needed liveliness.

The town he’s at has experienced a bad tragedy recently that’s ostractized a couple of people in town. Will this fake-priest patch things up with his unorthodox behavior? Because this is movieland, the answer is of course. The second act of the movie gets bogged down in the tragedy and the priest’s relationship to it, whereas the most interesting things are developed in the beginning, which is the split between the protagonist’s desire to live a holy life and his carnal desires, including sex and drugs and fighting. That opening act features some great editing that shifts abruptly between scenes of piety and carnality, one most of us can identify with too easily.

The fake-priest also deals with a young female parishoner, who is a catalyst for him becoming a priest. She’s young and cute, and he’s single. Will they have sex? Again, because this is movieland, of course. 

Despite this movie’s cliches, the final ten minutes were, in my view, unexpected. The camerawork at the very end changes to handheld long-takes, and the POV thus is quite different than the static compositions featured throughout. This POV change signals the protagonist’s transformation perhaps. The final scene is, well, two movies in one. I won’t say which kind of movie but neither is what you’d think would happen up to that point.

For that reason, I rate this movie more highly than I felt in the middle of it, and I might rewatch it. The question of the protagonist’s fraud exists throughout, and whether or not he is serious or performing for others is up to viewers in each scene. By the end, I think we know he’s not performing for sure, at least not any more!

This director is talented and has the ability to do great things.

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