Greetings again from the darkness. There are two camps of thought. You either believe people don’t change, or you believe that people can change. This feature film from Poland has been Oscar nominated for Best International Feature Film. In this film inspired by true events, director Jan Komasa and writer Mateusz Pacewicz will challenge your thoughts on people and change, as well as the role of Faith.
Twenty-year-old Daniel (a powerful and mesmerizing Bartosz Bielenia) is being paroled from the Juvenile Detention Center he’s been at since committing a violent crime. While incarcerated, Daniel has experienced a spiritual awakening, and is disappointed when Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat) informs him that his criminal record bars him from attending Seminary and becoming a priest. After a night of partying with his old buddies and attending to other releases not permitted at the center, Daniel eschews the provided job at a sawmill. He then stumbles into a temporary spot as a priest in a small community where the elder vicar’s (Zdzislaw Wardejn) health issues require him to take some time off.
Wearing a stolen priest collar, Daniel studies feverishly in order to lead mass and hear confessions. He falls back on what he has seen and heard from Father Tomasz, and even assumes that name for identity. Daniel has stepped into a community that is still reeling from a tragic car accident that took the lives of many locals. The widow (Barbara Kursai) of the “other” driver has been ostracized by the community, while mourners gather at the same site each day. Daniel befriends Marta (Eliza Rycembel), the sister of one of the victims, and he is assisted with his duties by Marta’s mother Lidia (Aleksandra Konieczna), who is suspicious of young Daniel, and still carrying much anger towards the man (and his widow) responsible for her son’s death.
Of course we know, even if Daniel sometimes forgets, that his past will eventually catch up with him. In the meantime, his enthusiasm and sincerity and youthful wisdom win over many in the community, and start the healing process among those who didn’t think it possible. These are people desperate for guidance, and they find themselves drawn to this young man so devoted to helping. Some of the most interesting scenes include the town mayor (Leszek Lichota), who also runs the sawmill. He’s a power broker for the town, and Daniel instantly recognizes his arrogance.
What is true Faith? Has Daniel turned a new leaf or is it an act? We know violence is in his make-up, but we also see that he is actually helping folks – he’s making a difference. There is a funeral procession that is quietly affecting, and the theme of forgiveness is crucial throughout. Mr. Komasa’s terrific film has been very well received at festivals, and it is sure to inspire many deep discussions. People are drawn to those who will assume the pulpit, and though the ending is brutal and crushing, we are reminded that no feeling compares to doing good for others … it’s addictive.