'The Culpable': Film Review

The Culpable Still - H 2016
Courtesy of KINO! 2016
This timely pic benefits from powerful performances.

A priest struggles with his conscience when his best friend and colleague is accused of child molestation in Gerd Schneider's German drama.

Approaching its timely subject matter from a fresh perspective, director/screenwriter Gerd Schneider's new drama concerns a priest who suffers a crisis of conscience when he suspects a colleague of sexually molesting young boys. Featuring a superb performance by Sebastian Blomberg in the central role, The Culpable, which won the Audience Choice Award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival and was recently showcased at NYC's Kino! 2016 festival of new German films, well deserves greater stateside exposure.

Jakob (Blomberg) is a dedicated priest who works in a prison counseling inmates. He has a particularly close if tense relationship with one prisoner, who, in an example of the screenplay's mordant wit, at one point stops a conversation cold and, after a long pause, tells Jakob, "I was considering your hostage value."

Jakob's world is rocked when best friend and fellow priest Dominik (Kai Schumann) is suddenly arrested on suspicion of sexual abuse. Jakob, along with Dominik's other friend and colleague Oliver (Jan Messutat), initially refuses to believe that Dominik is guilty. Attempting to prove his friend's innocence, he approaches the victim's mother, but she rebuffs him. But when Dominik essentially admits to the crime, tearfully saying that "the boundaries grow porous," Jakob finds himself wrestling over whether to speak out or go along with his superiors who are trying to cover it up.

Schneider, who at one point considered joining the priesthood himself, approaches his powerful subject matter with sensitivity and restraint, providing a complexity to his characters that, even in the worst cases, makes them understandable, if not sympathetic. From the young victim who expresses his turmoil by cutting himself to the parents who now question their faith to the guilty priest who is brutally beaten by his fellow prison inmates, the ramifications of the horrific crime are made vividly clear. 

It's Blomberg's Jakob, however, who provides the film its moral center. Powerfully conveying his character's turmoil over his divided loyalties with minimal histrionics, the actor succeeds in accomplishing much more by doing less.

Venue: Kino! 2016
Production: Penrose Film
Cast: Sebastian Blomberg, Kai Schumann, Jan Messutat, Sandra Borgmann
Director-screenwriter: Gerd Schneider
Producers: Felix Eisele, Julia Klenhenz, Katja Siegel, Bernhard, Stegmann
Director of photography: Pascal Schmit
Production designer: Ina Kufner
Editor: Uta Schmidt
Costume designers: Bettina Marx, Ulrike Kiss-Ruddies
Composers: John Gurtler, Jan Miserre

Not rated, 96 minutes