In the Name of...
aka W imię First screened in September 2013
Director: Małgośka Szumowska. Cast: Andrzej Chyra, Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Łukasz Simlat, Tomasz Schuchardt, Maria Maj, Maja Ostaszewska, Kamil Adamowicz, Mateusz Gajko, Jakub Gentek, Mateusz Malczewski, Krystian Poniatowski, Kacper Sztachanski, Kamil Konopko, Daniel Świderski. Screenplay: Małgośka Szumowska and Michal Englert.Twitter Capsule:
Polish gay-priest drama has narrative stutters, gauzy textures, but tough ideas at heart. Chyra's great in lead.
Polish director Małgośka Szumowska keeps striking me as a filmmaker with real guts, amply compensating for moments where she falls short in storytelling or stylistic finesse. About a year ago I saw her film Elles, in which Juliette Binoche plays a Parisian journalist investigating the plight of young female sex workers. As that film wears on, Binoche's character begins to seem something other than outraged or inquisitive about these girls; changes in her clothing, louche looks at herself in the mirror, and quick dunks into her headspace imply that she's becoming aroused by the coercive sexual economies she's exploring, ostensibly to decry them. That's a bold premise, not least for how Szumowska approaches it with unusual mixtures of luridness and tact. The film doesn't scream out to shock you; it isn't cautionary, and the performances Szumowska draws not just from Binoche but from Anaïs Demoustier and Joanna Kulig as her primary contacts certify the project as more than arthouse voyeurism. Much less is it the kind of moralizing venture most directors would have made of it, certainly in the States.
Szumowska has similar success in her latest and arguably even riskier film, In the Name of..., about a Polish Catholic priest in a rural parish (are they called parishes, asks the agnostic?) who works mainly with local youth, and whom the film eventually reveals as a repressed or semi-cognizant homosexual. Granted, some U.S. audiences, especially those who have done their time with coming-out dramas, crisis-of-faith dramas, and bucolic-pariah dramas, will experience parts of this movie as predictable or overfamiliar: the sober close-ups of unspoken anguish, the trajectory from nervous equilibrium to communal outcry and mounting personal distress, the attempt to salvage personal dignity as a consolation prize for ruined circumstances. Visual schemes aren't necessarily more imaginative, whether sun-dappled lakes and pastoral grasses or dark nights of the soul lit by the humming blue of an LCD monitor. In surveying the priest's cohort of charges, the film opposes some young, sneering, muscular thugs to a slimmer, shyer, "simpler" boy, somewhere between mental impairment and faunlike sensitivity, using these dichotomies to externalize Adam's impulses and to signal his fate. Check, check, check.
But In the Name of... doesn't play like a recycled checklist, not least because the acting is so solid across the board, and extraordinary in the case of Andrzej Chyra's lead performance as Adam, the priest. Gifted with enormous, turquoise eyes that iridesce with complex emotion, Chyra manages the same trick Binoche did under Szumowska's direction, perhaps even more elegantly than she did. He seems to withhold from the camera, fixing the lens with his intense and charismatic stillness while somehow also guiding us on a rich and roomy emotional tour. Szumowska and co-writer Michal Englert have extended Chyra a showcase moment of flamboyant despair, drunkenly admitting his longings for other men to his sister over a Skype call, and even this he manages to play hotly and coolly at the same time, demonstrating the visceral push-pull by which Adam tries to expel and retain the feelings burning a hole in his belly. Chyra furnishes the character such authenticity that even amidst overripe Christic motifs (supporting that "sensitive" young man, who cannot swim, as he floats in a lake), or even amid a dénouement that may seem more convenient than plausible, we respond to Adam's story as a credible human experience.
Handsomely if unadventurously photographed, In the Name of... uses framing, light, and sound to amplify the film's clear emotional stakes but not really to complicate them. Maybe that's a missed opportunity, but we don't feel the loss as we might, because the script offers plenty of complicationnot through twists in the plot but through its bold embrace of ambiguity and its soft-spoken but inflammatory counter-intuition. Maybe Szumowska surrounds Adam with more shirtless young men than she needs to, allowing her camera to dote on their shoulders and chests, but she doesn't use these images to couch Adam as someone who fosters scenarios in which to drool over his charges. Neither, however, does she invest her film in exonerating Adam of any craving for these boys, whether limited to their bodies or not. U.S. audiences, especially the most secular, may have trouble bearing in mind how contentious it remains for Szumowska to produce and release a sympathetic portrait of a gay priest in contemporary, heavily Catholic Poland. (Floating Skyscrapers, another gay-themed Polish drama playing at CIFF, only drives this sad fact further home.) It's even more bracing to see the film refuse both paths of desexualizing Chyra's longings or reducing his struggle to its erotic valences alone. Adam's spiritual torment is real, as is his loneliness, as is his interest in his boys' wellbeing. Indeed, and this is the film's final coup, once Adam's relationship to one of his young parishioners manifests ever more overt desire, the film refuses to censure this turn of events. In the Name of... stakes a clear claim that gay men can serve honorably as clergy and stipulates even further that it may not be worth drawing lines among the varying aspects of love that comingle within clerical protection and solicitous compassion. John Patrick Shanley's Doubt engineered a similar idea into a self-consciously juicy potboiler. In the Name of... in some ways feels braver, especially given its cultural context, for approaching a comparable proposition as though it were a modest proposal, maybe even a generic truth. Grade:B