Religious Drama 'Clergy' Lures Moviegoers Despite Sensitive Premise

Courtesy of Profil Film
'Clergy' has taken in $23 million at the local box office so far.

"I wanted to reach Catholics, who I hope, after leaving the cinema, will ask themselves if they are not also responsible for what they saw on the screen," says director Wojciech Smarzowski — whose film takes a critical look at abuse within the Catholic Church.

Clergy opens with scenes of Catholic priests boozily slurring their way through last rites. Later, we see them dozing in the confession box, nicking cash from the collection plate and engaging in sexual trysts both playful and depraved. But what starts innocently enough turns dark as Clergy examines the damage caused by children abused by priests and the church that, for decades, covered it up.

Wojciech Smarzowski’s drama, based on real events, has become a phenomenon in Poland: It’s the most successful film of the year ($23 million at the box office and counting) and one that has shaken up a nation in which 85 percent of the population identifies as Catholic.

"Most of my films start quite light, I want the viewer to feel comfortable, to get him involved. But gradually I take away that sense of security," Smarzowski tells THR. "I wanted to reach Catholics, who I hope, after leaving the cinema will ask themselves if they are not also responsible for what they saw on the screen." 

Clergy has already had an impact, sparking controversy and encouraging hundreds of Poles to come forward with allegations of recent and historical abuse. It has also sparked a backlash from some members of the Polish clergy and rightwing conservatives. But Jacek Rzehak, the film’s producer, is undeterred.

"This film shows the truth, it disembowels the church’s institutions," he says. "For any opponents of the film, I recommend a short conversation with the victims of the clergy pedophiles."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 2 daily issue at the American Film Market.