“In the Name Of” (Film Review)

Poland 2012, 102 min.
Director: Malgoska Szumowska

The Winter 2013-14 edition of Quest Bulletin contained a moving article written by a man who had been in a 14-year-long relationship with a Catholic priest, a relationship which ended when the priest, who was 44 years his senior, died. We know that such relationships are not supposed to exist and possibly we took note of the previous Pope’s words, given in a 2010 interview with Peter Seewald, when he said “homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation” and it is “one of the miseries of the Church”. In this interview, Benedict condemned all gay clergy irrespective of whether they keep their sexuality entirely private and live chaste and celibate lives, or let others quietly know they are gay yet follow the Church’s dictates regarding their sexuality, or follow a third way of living a double life. Regardless of which category gay clergy fit into, I believe we can all name greater miseries within the Church – if one accepts, which I do not, that the existence of gay clergy is a misery – that are more deserving of criticism than the existence of gay clergy whose desperate need for intimacy and human connection with other adult persons, no less than that of their straight confreres, causes them to seek solace in a sexual relationship.

When it comes to dramas about priests, whether on TV, cinema or the stage, I can be über-critical; picking up on poor research, inferior writing and inattention to detail. A rare exception would be the BBC comedy series Rev – excluding the implausible notion that the only mode of transport available to an archdeacon in the capital is a black cab (however, the comedic value of the contrast between black cab fares and Fr Adam’s cash-strapped Anglican parish was not lost on me).

In the Name Of is a Polish film, co-written and directed by Malgorzata Szumowska, and belonging to that subgenre of dramas exploring the sexual repression of a priest; earlier examples which spring to mind are The Thorn Birds and Priest. The central character, a different Fr Adam (Andrzej Chyra), is one of the lads; a heavy drinker, kicking footballs, and a keen runner; stereotypically a man’s man, so who would suspect that beneath this butch, confident exterior lies a lonely, troubled man? In a village in rural Poland his work is with teenage boys with behavioural problems who are constantly fighting and shouting abuse. A local, bored housewife, the wife of Fr Adam’s co-worker, Michal, makes a play for him but he rejects her advances, stating that he is “already spoken for”, a reference no doubt to his vow of priestly celibacy. His eyes, however, are drawn to the Christ-like figure of Lukasz, known to his friends as Humpty, a strange, withdrawn and possibly autistic youth, the son of a local family, whom Adam resuscitates after the young man, who does not swim, gets into difficulties at a local lake. After this, the bloodied Lukasz turns to the priest for help after getting involved in a fight with other boys. In an obvious reference to depictions of the Pietá, the young man is seen draped across the lap of the priest after having had his wounds washed.

The appearance of a newcomer to the centre, Blondie, who passes knowing glances in the direction of Adam, is the catalyst for change. Not least because the priest finds him In flagrante delicto with another boy who previously had confessed that he had had oral sex with a youth at a party he attended while on a weekend pass  The penance recommended was that the young man should run for at least an hour every day, and to regard it is a form of prayer. Explaining perhaps why Fr Adam is seen several times throughout the film running in the local woods. He’s not training for a marathon but dealing with his demons. Blondie condemns the priest as an old faggot to a group of the boys and, in time, Michal comes to the same conclusion and secures an appointment with the local bishop.

This is a remarkable and beautifully crafted film; for it to have been produced in one of Europe’s most staunchly Catholic countries with funding from the Polish Film Institute it would surprise me if it did not meet with strong resistance from church circles. The director reports that neither the LGBT community nor the Catholic Church in Poland was happy with the result. The former believe that it should have been much more critical of the Church and the latter regarded it as a blatant attack. Happily neither is the case. It is the story of one man’s struggle with loneliness, desire and the need for love and Szumowska has shown admirable restraint in not over-egging or exploiting her subject. A scene in which, after visiting the lake at Lukasz’s request for swimming lessons, the two of them pursue each other in a field of maize, playing ‘hide and seek’, while acting and sounding like chimpanzees, is a metaphor that continues to elude me. Not so the final scene where the camera focuses on a large building, a seminary, finally coming to rest on a group of becassocked seminarians. One of the seminarians turns from his companions to look straight at the camera; it is the face of Lukasz. So the cycle repeats itself, another lamb to the slaughter.

● Adam McIntosh

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