Fresh-faced priest Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) materializes in a small Polish town, where he’s been asked to sub for the local parish leader who’s off to rehab for his secret alcoholism. Though initially baffled by his off-book preaching style, the townspeople—still nursing the psychic wounds caused by a recent car crash that killed six of their own—soon warm to Daniel. His raw methods disarm their grudge-holding stubbornness. There’s one problem: he was just released from a youth detention center after serving time for a violent crime, which bars him from ordainment. Daniel’s a fraud. But if he’s providing real succor, Jan Komasa’s film hazards to ask, does it matter?
Mateusz Pacewicz based his screenplay on news stories of ingenuous parishioners hoodwinked by sham priests in Poland and Spain. The factual backing helps rebut potential problems of strained credulity (did none of the locals think to research his past?), and Pacewicz and Komasa smartly fleck the often death-dominated and hate-haunted material with comedy—such as Daniel, in the booth for the first time, quickly Googling “how to conduct confession,” or straining for casual pulpit profundity (“Go have a chat with God”) in the manner of the break-dancing, youth-targeting preachers of YouTube.
If Warsaw ’44, Komasa’s loony 2014 Polish resistance romance, was Besson, Corpus Christi is Bresson, a stylistic volte-face country priest tale shot naturalistically in drab charcoal gray and moss tones. The mostly unknown Bielenia’s wan, vaguely alien handsomeness provides an ambiguity in harmony with the film’s irreverent questioning.