Last year was a tough year to be an award-worthy "international film with a predominantly non-English dialogue track". While Parasite's Best Picture Oscar win was a genuine history-in-the-making surprise, its earlier collection of the newly renamed Best International Film gong was not. Bong Joon Ho's juggernaut overshadowed the competition for much of last year and left little daylight for its rivals to find their audience. Which is a pity as Polish finalist Corpus Christi deserved a wider discussion.
Young offender Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia), serving time in a juvenile detention, has found some measure of meaning within the strictures of the Catholic Church through the mentoring of the centre's resident priest, Father Tomaz. Having been advised in no uncertain terms that his criminal past precludes him from entering the priesthood himself, he is paroled and given a bus ticket and the promise of a job offer at a sawmill on the other side of the country. Once there, Daniel instead seeks refuge in the neighbouring village under the guise of a travelling priest, recognising the respect and authority that his stolen vestments confer. Within the village Daniel finds a community that has been torn apart by recent tragedy and vulnerable to his unorthodox, and largely improvised, teachings on healing and forgiveness.
Under Jan Komasa's understated direction, Daniel's motivations are kept ambiguous, allowing Bartosz Bielenia's lead performance guide us through. Channelling a young Cillian Murphy and with the intensity to match, Bielenia is by turns intimidating and vulnerable, making his transformation by simple addition of a clerical collar credible.
The cinematic trope of an outsider evading responsibility by hiding out in a small community under false pretences while ultimately bringing said community together and discovering their own worth in the process is a tried and trusted one. But despite the ostensible similarities, Corpus Christi shares little DNA with the likes of We're No Angels and Happy, Texas that have trodden such familiar ground, eschewing the comedic potential in favour of a meditation on the nature of faith and those we select to impart it to others.
Parasite undoubtedly captured the zeitgeist with its acerbic take on class divisions, but now that the dust has finally settled perhaps Corpus Christi can reach a broader audience beyond the awards season fervour.