Corpus Christi

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama 

Availability: Apple TV, SBS on demand. Polish with English subtitles.

Storyline: Twenty-year-old Daniel is serving time in a Polish juvenile detention centre. The film’s opening is brutal as we witness the savagery of bullying behaviours in closed institutional settings. The film then moves to the chapel where Daniel and his peers listen to the Catholic sermons of Father Tomasz who tells them “each of us is the priest of Christ”. This turns out to be an epiphanic moment for Daniel, who internalises this calling to the priesthood. Father Tomasz, however, shatters his hopes telling him that his criminality bars him from becoming a priest. Instead, on release he is sent to work in a sawmill in a small rural town. But through a series of mistakes and opportunities, he ends up assuming the identity of the replacement village priest. It turns out he possesses a gift that resonates in the small town where parishioners are emotionally scarred by the loss of seven young people in a car accident. But Daniel’s presence shakes up village life as he becomes increasingly embroiled in dynamics that threaten his place in the fragile community. 

Film-craft: Directed by award-winning Polish director, Jan Komasa, Corpus Christi won two awards at the Venice Film Festival when it premiered in 2019. It was also nominated for an Oscar in the Best International Feature Film category in 2020, but was beaten by the Korean film Parasite. Corpus Christi is visually striking, its cinematography shifts from icy shades of blue in the detention centre and later in village life, to the rich colours and textures of the village church, starkly contrasting the world inside and outside the ecclesiastical community. 

Cast: Bartosz Bielenia is nothing short of electrifying as Daniel. He brings a sharp intensity to the role, and he is able to move impressively from being euphoric and saint-like to becoming frighteningly manic. At the same time he brings an easy humour to the film as he is expected to perform the unfamiliar priestly role. He is also supported by impressive performances, particularly Aleksandra Konieczna as Lidia, the church matron who becomes increasingly alarmed by the new priest’s behaviour, and Eliza Rycembel her daughter who befriends Daniel. 

Personal Comments: Corpus Christi is shocking at times, funny, yet harrowing with heartbreakingly dark twists. While a bit heavy on symbolism, it offers a nuanced exploration of morality, faith, deception and acceptance in a closed rural community. With its thought-provoking ending, it is likely to linger long after the credits roll.     


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Detective drama 

Availability: Netflix

Storyline: The murder of a Yakuza member’s nephew in his London apartment threatens to cause a gang-war in the Japanese criminal underworld. The murder weapon is a ceremonial Japanese sword and Yuto Mori is implicated in the killing. His brother, Kenzo Mori, a dedicated Tokyo-based detective, is sent to sort it out before Yakuza retaliation gets out of control. Kenzo prefers to investigate incognito, but soon finds himself embroiled in a complex set of relationships that create risks for his family and the people he cares most about. 

Film-craft: Giri/Haji is a BBC and Netflix co-production that was first aired in 2019. It is an ambitious cross-cultural, bilingual and cross-genre series that defies neat characterisation. Ostensibly a procedural crime thriller, in Japanese and English, it has elements of a shomin-geki Japanese family drama, violent gang fights, along with a number of romantic couplings, all mixed together in an intricate plot that is serious yet humorous. There is a lot going on in this series with its stylish watercolour anime and its choreographed dance scene that comes magnificently out of nowhere. Full of twists and turns it could have been chaotic, but Joe Barton, who created and wrote the series, pulls it all off brilliantly. 

Cast: The series has a sterling cast, all of whom bring emotional presence to the roles as fallible characters struggle with duty, guilt and shame. The relationship between the two brothers, Kenzo played by Takehiro Hira, and Yuto played by Yôsuke Kubozuka, rests at the heart of the action and both actors are impressive. Scottish actor Kelly Macdonald as DC Sarah Weitzmann, is also terrific bringing vulnerability and strength to the role. The three generations of Japanese women, who end up on a road-trip fleeing the clutches of the villainous Yakuza, are memorable. My favourite, though, is Will Sharpe as Rodney, the quick-witted gay sex worker. Bringing much humour and poignancy to his character, he has some of the best lines in the series and carries them off with skill, deftness and style. 

Personal Comments: Giri/Haji is a unique, absorbing and entertaining series, and I am surprised it has not been a sensational hit. Perhaps people have been put off by its Japanese/Anglo presentation and its extensive use of subtitles. But in truth, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. If you can cope with its level of violence, it is compellingly original, experimental and smart. And for those of you who like to think about concepts of global interconnectedness and rippled action, its systemic undercurrents may make the series particularly appealing.