Monday, 24 February 2014
In 1994, the late Antonia Bird paired up Linus Roach and Robert Carlisle for Priest (1994), the tale of a catholic priest torn between the church and his secret life as a homosexual. Here, another female director, Malgorzata Szumowska tackles the same subject but from a different social perspective. In the Name of (2013), is a poignant exploration of burgeoning homosexuality within both Polish society and the strict confinements of the Catholic Church.
Adam (Andrzej Chyra), a charming but troubled priest arrives to take over a small parish in rural Poland. He soon becomes very popular with his congregation and a much admired pillar of the community. Adjoined to his church is a youth centre, frequented by problematic teenagers. Following a violent gang-fight parish newcomer, Lucasz arrives on Adam’s doorstep covered in cuts and bruises. Once cleaned up the pair spend an innocent night together, sleeping on the sofa. Soon the couple begin spending time together and Adam finds it hard to disguise his attraction to Lucasz. Deeply pious and lonely, Adam rejects the advances of a bored housewife (Maja Ostaszewska) but the temptation of Lucasz is much harder for him to resist.
Events unfold beneath a thick fog of tension and, as in Bird’s film, the focus remains firmly on the priest. Adam is portrayed in many moments of solitude. Whether running, bathing or sleeping, Chyra performs the role with a brooding anguish that shines from within and can only be read by Lucasz. There is slight discordance in Szumowska’s screenplay, her study of Adam at times becomes an unwelcome over-analysis which as a result, has a negative affect on the development of other characters, namely Lucasz, who is sadly reduced to the bearer of a loving gaze and not a great deal more.
Cinematographer, Michal Englert, who also co-wrote the screenplay, does a beautiful job of characterising Poland. From the dark and misty forest runs, that show Adam running off his sinful thoughts to the daytime heat of the sports field, Englert’s expert eye adds the depth required for a film of such great complexity. Both aesthetically and in subject matter, the film shares a great deal with Christian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (2012), however, it lacks the subtlety and grace of Mungiu’s film due to its gratuitous and unremitting attempt at homoeroticism amongst the shirtless, dehumanised and seemingly feral teenage cast.
Sadly, it feels as if In the Name of, only delivers one half of a story. If Lucasz had been constructed with the same thoroughness as Adam, this could have been something really special but unfortunately its bold promise fails to materialise. However, that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some powerful moments. The intelligent use of Band of Horses on the soundtrack certainly tickles the viscera but overall it’s Chyra’s dedicated performance and his scenes of solitary torment that provides the film’s saving grace.