In the Name Of
Runs Fri., Nov. 15–Thurs., Nov. 21 at Sundance. Not rated. 102 minutes.
You may recall the controversy, some 20 years ago, surrounding the English film Priest, about a Catholic cleric hiding his homosexuality. A lot has changed since then. Still, after so many pedophilia lawsuits and exposes (including the 2006 documentary Deliver Us From Evil), this Polish drama might seem redundant—or worse, sensationalist. So we have a handsome parish priest, transferred from Warsaw to a rural village, where he oversees a reform-school farm full of shirtless, horny teens. Father Adam (Andrzej Chyra) came late to God, he explains in a sun-washed sermon, though he’s vague about his past. When not working (generally out of his cassock), he exhausts himself by running through the forest to deplete his desire. After rebuffing the wife of a colleague, he makes tearful, drunken Skype confessions to his unsympathetic sister in Toronto. He is, profoundly and sadly, alone.
A rough-trade, bottle-blond teen arrives at the farm, and Adam watches aghast—or enviously—as he cornholes another lad on the rectory couch. (That defiled furniture is promptly removed.) But lurking around the periphery is gentle, long-haired farmhand Lukasz (Mateusz Kościukiewicz), nicknamed “Humpty,” who silently falls in love with the kind Adam. How can this situation be tolerated? Why doesn’t Adam simply leave the church and take Lukasz back to the more-tolerant city?
The weight of tradition and the rhythms of rural life are keenly felt in Małgośka Szumowska’s very assured drama, handsomely shot in widescreen. (Her Elles, with Juliette Binoche as a journalist studying hookers, played the Varsity last year.) Lukasz is loyal to his family because they’re poor, and Adam is loyal to his flock because they plainly need him. In the Name Of isn’t so much about sexual frustration or religious hypocrisy as the conservative bonds of Catholic Poland. Lukasz and the reform-school boys were born after communism, but Adam and his church are still ruled by an inflexible hierarchy. (“We don’t sweep dirt under the carpet,” says a bishop, who does just that.) A different film might explode into conflict or reward us with a happy ending. Instead, in a very deliberate fashion, Szumowska suggests how a cycle of secrecy is perpetuated beneath the collar.