Corpus Christi – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Jan Komasa

Written by Mateusz Pacewicz

Taking inspiration from real events, Corpus Christi, named after the Christian feast the film builds towards, centres around the spiritual awakening Daniel receives while serving time in a Polish detention centre for youths. Upon release, Daniel wishes to repent; in search of absolution, he desires to become a priest but is unable to do so due to his criminal record. Unwilling to work in a sawmill for the rest of his days and stumbling upon a chance encounter with an ailing vicar, Daniel takes on the name of the prison chaplain, performing sacramental rights in the vicar’s absence and he begins to find a sense of forgiveness in a village suffering from a tragedy.

As fragile and unsettling as he is charming, Bartosz Bielenia carries Corpus Christi, there is no question about this. Side characters play their part, but all receive a lift in scenes they share with Bielenia. Closer to the start of his career than the end, Bielenia commands a measure of emotions which is enviable to even seasoned experts. Using a concoction of troubled confusion, anxiety and lashings of aggression, he still achieves Pacewichz’s humour in the script in a natural way with co-star Eliza Rycembel.

The film is a rare piece which communicates much by saying little; few issues are drawn out or laid bare to the audience. The symbolic struggle of political over religious influence or power is not spelt out, but rather proffered up for our interpretation. A crucial idea is that no matter the influence office possesses, only one form of authority can force the other to, quite literally, bend the knee. Power-play, particularly masculine, is intrinsic to the plotline. In recognising Daniel’s influence over the community, Leszek Lichota’s Mayor of the town gives a subdued performance, resonating with Komasa’s stringent realism in direction. There are multiple opportunities for melodrama, for exaggeration and outright antagonists, but thankfully we never fall into these pitfalls.

With reverence, even while acknowledging the declining faith in Europe and that many churchgoers do so out of habit rather than belief, Mateusz Pacewichz’s script refrains from petty jabs at religion. Instead, it allows commentary of the church’s apparent confusion over redemption, confession and forgiveness. Sexton for the vicarage – Aleksandra Konieczna as Lidia – is the representative of the judgement which dictates these communities, with a sense of self-conflicting authority, which hinders future generations’ opportunities to grow in this brutal coming-of-age drama.

Corpus Christi is a quiet film, unafraid of holding both the moment and indeed the shot. It paces itself to the beat of the audience’s breath, stilling in the poignant moments of death or reflection, with cuts occurring in quick succession via the introduction of club-anthems, drug abuse and strobe lighting. Piotr Sobocinski Jr’s cinematography works, but struggles to find a reflective vision for the film, unsure of how to stylise the aesthetic. In aiming for realism, the film has choice moments of spectacle, usually at the hand of effects, lighting or performance, rather than editing or camera work. There’s a blur, which complements interior shots of smoke or incense, but one can’t help feel the hollow coldness of the blues and greys aren’t being used to full effect, excluding, of course, an uncomfortably brutal climax.

Viscerally, the conclusion absconds from the perverse silence which has set the pace before it. A gut-punch, this finale is a shattering of the illusory happy ending, a reminder of the film’s subcutaneous message that the young are the ones paying for the attitudes of established communities. Following his previous feature film Warsaw 44, Corpus Christi is principal evidence of Jan Komasa’s spectacular ability as a filmmaker, in and outside of Poland. The elements are there, and further collaboration with Bartosz Bielenia is hopefully on the cards as the two evolve together.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/corpus-christi/

The Kingmaker – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Written & Directed by Lauren Greenfield

Lies have found their place as currency in politics, haven’t they? Well, it’s certainly no different than the past. The only difference lies in the medium in which propaganda is broadcast. One woman who appreciates the value of an image, claiming to have solved the Cold War within ‘five minutes’, and rubbed shoulders with history’s wealthiest, influential is the former First Lady of The Philippines, Imelda Marcos; A fascinating woman who may play the part of the innocent ‘Mother’ of the nation but is first and foremost The KingmakerFollowing the death of her husband, President Ferdinand Marcos, she has her eyes set on a new King, her son Bongbong, ascending to the leadership of the Philippines.

What starts as a documentary, seemingly offering a platform for Marcos, turns into a nightmarish, honest and cold-cut horror piece of reality. The Kingmaker is as repulsive as it is engrossing, without resorting to forced perspective. Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield masterfully stitches the truth against Marcos as an unreliable narrator, producing an insightful documentary on the obsessive allure of power, wealth and legacy.

Refusing to maintain this platform, subverting it instead, Greenfield admits that upon meeting Marcos, she was unsure of the former First Lady’s intentions. Poised with an image in mind, it takes little time to realise that for Marcos, as with her life, this is another tapestry to weave. To paint her visage once more, to outright deny, distract and cast smoke around her history. The stories she tells, the way she feigns ignorance to the billions she and her husband robbed from the Filipino public and the attempt to control the direction of the documentary, Imelda Marcos is no ‘trophy’ first lady, but a tactician.

Refuting this, Greenfield seamlessly provides rebuttals to Marcos’ attempts at drawing her narrative. Without false pretense or unneeded pathos, brutal accounts of the martial law, the sexual assault and violence the people suffered under the Marcos’ rule are played directly after interview segments. The Kingmaker’s editing is fluid, without awkward transitions of showcasing, instead noting the importance of reporting a direct truth against the lies told. We flow from Marcos’ words of vindication for her family to the imagery of poverty, a broken nation and first-hand accounts of the brutality they suffered. 

Expanding on this unreliable nature, Greenfield’s documentary-style achieves a precise cinema verité in the construct of multiple scenes. Enabling multiple shots to have this ‘fly on the wall’ reach means that when Marcos’ pre-planned image fails, Greenfield captures the moment. It’s an open form of cinema where the camera is acknowledged, a raw documentary style which captures every motion, smile or servant bustling away with photos, portraits or bags filled with cash.

Reflecting her privilege, Lars Skree and Shana Hagan’s cinematography knows precisely where to focus in the Marcos family home, without obvious crassness. Framing Marcos near the stolen paintings she claims to have never owned, their cinematography forces nothing. Instead, it allows Marcos to fall on her opulence. Candidly walking, showcasing her prized Picassos or Michaelangelos, Skree and Hagan capture the decadence in which Marcos lives, contrasting it with wide shots of the countryside, which then crash into the reality of the surrounding slums of the Philippines.

The Kingmaker is a sublime piece of cinema verité, and moulds itself around the subject, acknowledging the attempts Marcos makes in constructing an image she can ‘sell’ to the world to reclaim former glory. Greenfield’s film is no less brave than it is insightfully smart, rather than direct opposition to the Marcos family, it humbly presents indisputable accounts to provide a balanced documentary, mesmeric in its deconstruction of dictatorial corruption and its analysis of lies.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/the-kingmaker/