“Every day we die and are reborn again”
Małgorzata Szumowska’s 2013 Polish drama In The Name Of (Polish: W Imię) brings together Poland’s two clashing entities – the Church (which has snuck onto the country’s political scene) and homosexuality. It is important to note that many Polish films are known to favour propaganda, mostly by freezing history on the horrors of World War II, thereby feeding new generations xenophobia that verges on open aggression.
Pointing this out is vital, as it brings out the unexpectedly empathetic portrayal of the human soul in Szumowska’s film. The story is so compassionate, in fact, that it is a wonder the Polish ruling party allowed it to be released, seeing as its members use homosexuals as their scapegoat as vehemently as the Church once used terror and fire.
Priest Adam (Andrzej Chyra) has joined the clergy to escape the bleak reality of being a closeted gay man. Stuck in rural Poland, he helps run a centre for socially maladjusted youth, gaining respect by epitomising great energy, charisma and rapport with the teenage boys under his care. When Łukasz (Mateusz Kościukiewicz) shows up, his composure falters. Adam finds himself battling his inner demons all over again. Meanwhile, he has to fight off the hungry gazes that mean to tear into his weakness, and the suspicious looks of the colleagues waiting to pounce on any faults they can find in his character.
The camera breathes down the actors’ necks, following them around in a series of long takes that stretch the film’s suspense, rivalling the hairiest of thrillers. The proximity we gain to the characters alleviates the raw, charmless portrayal of the Polish youth, the actions of which are dictated by the capricious nature of male camaraderie. Still, the film is abundant in moments of genuine playfulness, choosing to present as cohesive an image of the priest’s life as possible. That is why, perhaps, the few explicit scenes take on a dangerous air, lacking the warmth and tenderness Adam craves so desperately.
Andrzej Chyra commands the screen, appearing both dominating and vulnerable as his characters cuts through malice with a sharp mind and a biting sense of humour. As his character writhes in the clutches of both desire and regret, the walls separating the soul from the body come crashing down, revealing the tender yoke of a lost identity.
By focusing on the commonality of the characters’ troubles, In The Name Of serves as a dire warning against straying from your true self. The film goes a step further than simply splattering this wisdom over the fibres of the dialogue. While the camera shots shift from canary-yellow glee to the sickly grey of solitude, the story delves into the disintegration of a haunted mind.
The theme of identity – so tangible in Szumowska’s film – transcends the obvious limitations of religious institutions, achieving something spectacular in the process. In The Name Of uses religion as a metaphor, illustrating the caverns separating one sliver of indentity from the next. Band of Horses’ recurring song The Funeral also seems to play a significant role, as it is placed in contrast with religious ceremonies and icons – and overlaps images of the stone-faced locals flanking the priest.
Most importantly, the plot feeds off the obnoxious notion that homosexuality and paedophilia are interlinked. This misconception is propagated in Poland in order to feed the agenda of the populist party in power, which unites the body of its prospective voters by turning it against struggling minorities. Therefore, In The Name Of serves as a daring and commendable revolt against misplaced animosity.
Relief pokes its way through this murky cloud by relishing the intimacy of forgotten speech. The moment of the character’s greatest rapture is accompanied by complete silence, letting its significance resonate with the audience.
And so, despite the film’s heavy – if not tantalising – theme, In The Name Of is uncharacteristically hopeful, staying true to the beautiful tenderness it evokes. Unlike most Polish productions, this one fills the heart with a sense of justice and openness, drawing on the very thing essence of its appeal – empathy.
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