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/

Hitch Hike to Hell

Written by John Buckley

Directed by Irvine Berwick

Ah, the exploitation genre of cinema. A bounty of films which attempt success, or creativity, through touchy, niche or even lurid events and narratives. They often range from B-movie schlock to the entertaining and even impressive in design, to the downright absurdly offensive in how little hindsight the filmmakers take into consideration. Then there are these middle-ground ones; the attempted video nasties which can’t even get their hands dirty.

Borrowing heavily, chiefly from the master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, and of course, notorious pieces of rape-revenge and hitchhiking sub-genres (The Last House on the Left, The Hitch-HikerIrvin Berwick and John Buckley had an image for Hitchhike to Hell, an exploitative movie depicting the rape and murder of women who run away from home. Guising it with the ‘moral’ compass circulating in America at the time, of young girls leaving conservative (even abusive) homes and finding themselves assaulted by men on the highways.

After his sister flees the family home, devastating his mother, Howard cannot comprehend why anyone would choose to run away from home and ‘hurt’ their parents. This includes those leaving genuine life-threatening, abusive homes, and in the film’s most teeth-gritting scene, a fourteen-year-old runaway. Working as a laundromat deliveryman, Howard begins a life of picking up hitchhikers, and ‘punishing’ them for their cruel actions.

Arrow Film’s dedication to re-releasing films is a triumph, with successes in bringing treasures to the public and breathing fresh life into undead classics. Here though, they’ve managed an impressive feat – producing a 30-minute documentary extra and further piece, Road to Nowhere: Hitchhiking Culture Goes to Hell by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas which far exceed the film in terms of production, intent and even lampoon Buckley’s flaccid attempt at concealing his bias towards women.

Even more staggering is that while Harold’s overall performance redeems paint drying, the writing behind this Bates-light character contains relative decency with a slow, categorical depiction of a suffocating mother-son relationship, at least substantially for films of this ilk. Robert Gribbin’s Howard, who flips so frequently from good Samaritan to serial killer in the mere mention of family problems encroaches on ludicrous in depiction. Whereas the amateur performances from the women he abducts make for an unsettling realness to the crimes, Gribbin’s ‘turmoil’ at his actions and his love for his ‘Mamma’ feels hollow. By no means, in-depth, or even redemptive, Berwick’s direction at least seems to attempt multiple dimensions to the narrative, with Russel Johnson turning in the only decent performance as Captain J.W. Shaw.

Hitchhike to Hell fails to delve into the depravity others within the genre submerge themselves. Is this a positive? Not necessarily. While it means we thankfully abstain from morose depictions of sexual violence, it trivialises the matter with how little care is taken. The depictions of rape, set to hideously inappropriate music, become comedic in poor acting and tone, and this isn’t A Clockwork Orange, these score choices are not the decisions made for shock or atmospheric tone, there’s just no thought process here at all. 

Hitchhike to Hell tries capitalising on the exploitation genre it so desperately wants to be a part of but fails to be, and in failure brands itself as even worse a film by its inability to go that extra mile, to be creative or obscene. It commits a cardinal sin of any exploitation film – it’s dull – and for all the things of which it could have been guilty, this is perhaps the worst. While Arrow has once more released a well-maintained cut of the film, keeping the scratches, grit and grime of the film’s footage, it’s one of the video ‘nasties’ which should have been left at the roadside.

Available on Blu-ray now.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/hitch-hike-to-hell/

Tommy Tiernan: Paddy Crazy Horse – Rose Theatre

Performed by Tommy Tiernan

For just one night only, the lyrical prowess of Tommy Tiernan’s topsy-turvy language could be found reminding the inhabitants of Edinburgh the power located in the basement of Gilded Balloon’s Rose Theatre; a tremendously lively venue which is often cast aside outside of Fringe time. Irish through and through, Tiernan’s Paddy Crazy Horse is a stand-out routine where brief snippets could be removed from context, slapped into soundbites and you would have a seller there and then. 

Before asking, yes, Tiernan is Gerry from the sensational creation which is Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls. Thing is, Tiernan is a veteran of the comedy circuit, he’s a basement dweller. Not one to be found in the gilded halls or arenas, preferably in the dank, dingy confines of club undergrounds, a candle-lit illumination the only helpful presence to identify the man. Without a warm-up or blowhard introduction, Tiernan walks onto the stage, says his hellos and casually strolls into his routine which builds momentum until it is a force of insult, wit and grim commentary which cannot, and will not, halt.

If you’re easily offended, or quick to judge, in the kindest way possible – don’t bother showing up. Never a stranger to controversy, indeed it seems to follow Tiernan from the homeland, around the UK and then the states and back. Tiernan’s set pieces reinforce his Irish heritage, where family and national humour sits as a focus. There’s a tremendous amount of ‘angry logic’, a passion-driven delivery of intense aggression which thrusts humour into the room, smashing itself into listeners. It’s that exceedingly wonderful variety of stand-up where the audience laughs, then feels a pang of guilt, a delicious sound to hear from a room who refuse to admit they found something ‘offensive’ comical.

Conversational in construct, Tiernan’s routine isn’t reliant on significant subject matters, and is more a general chit-chat, even if it seems to be with himself. Without relying on audience interaction, his comedic roots lie in observational humour with a stem of identity and satirical jingoism. While this shouldn’t cause an issue with many audience members, there will be the occasional one who finds it odd to identify with Tiernan’s humour. His reliance on the occasional gag which has fine delivery, but dated subject matters such as men vs women, still hits the mark, but bruises the funny bone less than one would hope.

One for an accent or two, Tiernan doesn’t so much aim at any particular target, rather his shots spread themselves far and wide. In terms of performance, no doubt a testament to his acting ability, they hit. He’s a superb storyteller, hanging the room even when taking elongated pauses. Whether it be exaggeration or physical, the punchlines can hit hard, particularly the ones we didn’t expect, those sneak remarks which seem to have fallen by the wayside, only to circle and strike us in the back of the head.

Tiernan is a breed of comedian who refrains from plunging into the foray plenty of new generations of stand-up venture into. His act isn’t designed to entice media presence, drum up deliberate scandal or downward punches. Tiernan is who you are coming to see, and who you will receive, no character or false pretense. His set isn’t dressed up with obvious targets or cheap, easy-to-reach gags. It’s an evening of shooting the shit, living life, take shots at himself, his family and anyone while appreciating stand-up for its roots in the bars and clubs.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/tommy-tiernan-paddy-crazy-horse/