Polish film Kler (The Clergy), which paints a damaging picture of the local priesthood, has broken local box-office records and caused controversy in the largely Catholic country.
Directed by Wojciech Smarzowski, the film was released in Poland on Sept. 28 and immediately broke the local opening weekend box-office record with 935,000 admissions. Poland’s box-office charts track admissions rather than revenue.
Since opening, The Clergy has had over 3 million admissions according to distributor Kino Swiat. Local observers say the film has a chance of breaking Poland’s all-time attendance record, which James Cameron’s Avatar currently holds with 3.68 million admissions.
The producers of The Clergy claim it is based on real events. The film includes testimonies of abuse survivors, and features, among other things, a priest abusing a young boy. Also in the film, an alcoholic priest forces his lover to have an abortion and a senior cleric is involved in blackmail and corruption.
The film resonated with local audiences as its release nearly coincided with a major court decision. The case saw Poland’s Catholic Church bear responsibility for a priest imprisoned for abducting and raping a 13-year old girl. The church was ordered to pay an unprecedented 1 million zloty ($233,000) in damages.
The Clergy has struck a chord in Poland and prompted many Poles to come forward with their own stories of abuse committed by current and former priests, according to local reports.
While many viewers praised the film’s honesty, some accused it of deliberately presenting Poland’s clergy in a negative light.
Speaking on the air of ZET radio station, Pawel Soloch, head of the national security bureau, dismissed The Clergy as “propaganda” and compared it to anti-Jewish films made in Nazi Germany,
International rights to The Clergy have been sold to a number of foreign countries, including Austria, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States and Canada.
Prior to the wide release, The Clergy was premiered at the Gdynia Polish Film Festival where it collected the audience award and a few smaller trophies.
Smarzowski was previously known for his 2016 film Wolyn (Hatred).