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Mar 4, 2024

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Poland’s “Corpus Christi” In Oscar Top Five

Komasa’s movie about a make-believe priest sold to 45 countries

By Robert Strybel
olish/Polonian Affairs writer

A South Korean thriller titled “Parasite” snapped up four Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards gala, but Poland’s up-and-coming film director Jan Komasa wasn’t surprised or too disappointed. He was happy that his “Corpus Christi” had made it into the top five of the international Oscar nominees and that it has been sold to 45 different countries where it is drawing raves from audiences and reviewers alike. Inspired by an actual incident, “Corpus Christi” tells the story of 20-year-old Daniel, released from a youth detention center to which he had been sentenced for second-degree murder. While behind bars, he experienced a spiritual transformation and hoped to enter the priesthood. But his police record was an insurmountable obstacle. Instead, he got sent to work as a carpenter in a small rural village in southeast Poland.

During the absence of the local pastor, Daniel was mistakenly taken for a priest and decided to play out that role. Donning liturgical garb, he began ministering to his flock. Not for personal gain but because of a deeply felt religious calling. The energetic ministry of this charismatic young man initially raises eyebrows but ultimately helps heal the rift that has polarized the local community.

In one post-Oscar interview, Komasa said he had been observing America’s presidential campaign and came to the conclusion that “maybe people don’t need a president as much as they need a therapist.”  That theme runs through “Corpus Christi, and the rural village can be seen as a symbol of Poland’s polarization in recent years. “Even at the Wigilia supper political controversies now creep into the conversation,” he remarked.

Now 38, Komasa began his climb to prominence in the early 21st century. A screen writer and movie director he has created numerous films from short subjects and documentaries to full-length feature films which have won awards at Europe’s leading festivals. They have included his drama ”Suicide Room” (2011) depicting alienated youths retreating into the cyber world and contemplating self-annihilation as well as his blockbuster  “Warsaw 44” (2014) focusing on the tragedy of the Warsaw Uprising. A common theme of most of  Komasa’s works are the often daunting challenges facing the younger generation.

In recent years, several Polish films have made it onto the Academy Awards international short list including Agnieszka Holland’s war drama “In Darkness” (2011). In 2018, Paweł Malinowski’s “Cold War” also landed among the front-running nominees, but only his post-Holocaust drama “Ida” (2015) won the top prize.

Poland’s world-renowned filmmaker Andrzej Wajda received the Motion Picture Academy’s life-achievement award in 2000. The first Pole ever awarded was British-born Leopold Stokowski who conducted the music score to Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film “Fantasia.” In 1953, all of America was humming “Hi-Lili Hi-Lo,” a song composed by Polish-born Bronisław Kaper for the movie “Lili.”  (EDITOR: If lacking space, the final background paragraph can be deleted–RS.)