In the Name Of: Berlin Review

Emerging Polish filmmaker Malgoska Szumowska returns to form in an atmospheric, sensitively shot and acted story of a gay priest  

Actor Andrzej Chyra delivers a full-bodied portrait of a devout country priest struggling with his sexuality.

Gay priests hardly raise an eyebrow anymore in Western films, but it is rare that their sexual angst is portrayed as sensitively as in Poland’s Berlin competition entry In the Name Of…., which hovers in an interesting middle ground between Gothic expressionism and psychological drama, heightened by a fine cast and outstanding performances. It should put respected young writer-director Malgoska Szumowska’s (33 Scenes From Life) career back on track after her critically unpopular Elles, which essayed a radical female take on prostitution. The new film’s tolerance, propped up by a careful distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia, is unlikely to arouse much controversy among the kind of art house audiences the Memento title will attract, though it could provoke protest from traditional Catholic groups.

Father Adam (played by Szumowska regular Andrzej Chyra) is the stern-faced pastor of a small parish in the Polish boondocks. Since being transferred there, he has opened a center for difficult boys coming from a reformatory, and his success in taming their foul language and manners has been “remarkable” even in the eyes of his bishop.

PHOTOS: European Film Market 2013: 10 Titles to Track in Berlin

He works elbow to elbow with his even sterner lay assistant Michal, and there is no question about their earning the boys’ respect:  they command it. The wildness of the place is described in a tense opening scene showing how small children mercilessly torment a simple-minded youth. An atmosphere of danger and violence holds the whole film in thrall, and against this backdrop Father Adam’s personal drama emerges.

His first temptation comes, appropriately enough, from an attractive woman named Eve (Maja Ostaszewska), Michal’s dissatisfied wife, who attempts to seduce him without success.  His witty reply (“I’m already taken”) seems to refer to his vow of celibacy, but gradually it becomes clear that he’s attracted not to women, but to the youths around him. One in particular strikes a chord, the strange, silent Lukasz (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, the prize-winning young actor from Matka Teresa and All That I Love) whose long hair and beard give him the look of a teenage Jesus. In an eerie primeval scene in a vast cornfield, the priest and the boy play hide-and-seek, calling to each other with ape-like howls.  Rather than give in to his sexual longings, however, Adam returns to his old vice of drinking, which culminates in the film’s sole comic scene as he dances, dead drunk, to a pumped-up rock track, with a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI for a partner. Though there are not really that many ways such a tale could end, the screenplay keeps all options open until it settles on a dignified finale with a small-scale surprise.

Chyra never stumbles in his tough but engaging portrait of a sincerely devout priest with human failings, establishing a close bond with the viewer from the first scenes. The proximity of the sacred and the profane in his ministry make him at once a magnetic authority figure with a real vocation and a fragile fellow much in need of a hug. 

Along with the enigmatic  Kosciukiewicz, Tomasz Schuchardt’s devilish “Blondie” stands out of the rowdy pack of young men testing their limits, filmed in uncomfortable close-up by a restlessly swishing camera. Cinematographer Michal Englert’s out-of-doors lighting is arresting in its depiction of a forest of trees taller than any cathedral; it’s not surprising Father Adam calls his morning jog “praying.”

Venue: Berlin Film Festival (Competition), Feb. 8, 2012.

Production companies: Polish Film Institute, Canal+, Mental Disorder 4, Zentropa International Poland

Cast: Andrzej Chyra, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Maja Ostaszewska, Lukasz Simlat,Tomasz Schuchardt
Malgoska Szumowska
Malgoska Szumowska
Agnieszka Kurzydlo
Beata Ryczkowska, Malgoska Szumowska, Peter Garde
Director of photography: Michal Englert
Production designer:
Marek Zawierucha
Costumes: Katarzyna Lewinska, Julia Jarza-Bratiniec
Jacek Drosio
Pawe? Mykietyn, Adam Walicki
Sales Agent:
Memento Films International
96 minutes.