Polish LGBT Cinema: ‘In the Name of…’ by Małgoska Szumowska (Review published at PlayPoland.Org, November 2013)

Małgoska Szumowska is like the rock’n’roll prodigy child of the Polish cinema at the moment; brave, daring, challenging, visually striking, and emotionally engaging. Poland’s most exciting new director debuted shortly after graduating from the country’s prestigious Lodz Film School, whose alumni include Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski, and which was also attended by Roman Polanski. A fan of Bergman, Tarkovsky, von Trier and Tarantino, Szumowska competently blends poetry and profound emotions with youthfulness in a visual style that is both sweepingly poetic and frivolously pop.

 Szumowska has been sweeping up awards from her very first attempt at feature filmmaking. She was nominated for The European Film Award for her debut “Happy Man”, becoming a member of the European Film Academy in the same year. Her breakthrough feature “33 Scenes From Life” got her a special prize at the Locarno International FilmFestival. Then came the grand French co-production with Juliette Binoche in the leading role, assisted by Poland’s emerging acting talent Joanna Kulig. “Elles” celebrated its worldwide premi?re at Toronto International Film Festival.

szumowskaSzumowska’s latest ‘In the name of…’ not only got her a Teddy award at Berlinale but, as it gathered its audience, made waves in the Polishmedia, with national talkshows waking up to the possibilities of the homosexuality amongst priests debate. The ‘In the name of…’ narrative follows a Catholic priest, Adam. After several parish transfers, he is sent to an isolated rural community, where he looks after teenage tearaways. The accompanying sense of isolation is enhanced with long takes of Adam’s woodland runs, his longing for peace within himself and his environment. The conflict escalates when he meets Lukasz…
Andrzej Chyra excels in this torrid drama of hierarchy, loneliness, and longing for intimacy and warmth. Szumowska doesn’t judge her protagonist’s actions, doesn’t dwell upon his past. Verbally minimalist, the film is a concentrated story of loneliness and alienation in the role of the priest. Adam is the figure who has to remain lonely and obedient as a community worker. He needs to remain open to his parish, yet never get too close. Szumowska marvellously digs into the human face of a man who’s only solace is to be found in God, regardless of a passionate, caring nature and sexuality.

Chyra gives a genuine face to these struggles, beautifully counteracting the physical performance of Mateusz Kościukiewicz, mastering his character’s endearing simplicity, as well as his purity of feelings and honesty. Circled around the strong lead are acting gems from a group of non-professionals selected by Szumowska in a local town, adding a certain punch and vividness to the subtleties and dramatism of the movie. Their performances raw, natural and honest; the camera captures their spontaneity as it floats around between them. Szumowska’s formal style astounds with clarity and spontaneity of movement, reflecting upon moods and emotions, sweeping across the field as Adam and Lukasz chase each other. Yet it remains close, intimate, almost tactile in the sequence of their reunion.

‘In the name of…’ then, is a wondrous milestone in Polish cinema, gaining both critical acclaim and popular sympathies as it hit the box office. National success in Poland was mirrored abroad with Szumowska touring the UK at a number of Q&As.

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