“In the Name Of” follows the story of Adam, a Polish Catholic priest, who has been transferred to a rural village. In addition to performing his priestly duties, Adam also runs a center for disadvantaged, adolescent boys with the help of his friend Michal. Through a slow boil narrative style, we come to find that not all is right at the center, as Adam struggles with his own vices, his sexual interest in some of the youths, and how he is to advise his charges when he himself is so conflicted.
This is the fifth film from Polish director/screenwriter/producer Malgorzata Szumowska, which she co-wrote with cinematographer Michael Englert. “In the Name Of” premiered in competition this year at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival and won the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film.
Quietly passionate, on occasion humorous, never overtly theological or political, there are many different themes explored in the film. It is very relevant, considering the numerous sexual abuse cases that have come to light in recent years. There is an exploration of isolation in which the remote geographic setting reflects how one’s role, station and self-perception can shut one off from others. Of course, a sense of guilt and shame play a part in this, too. The movie is not subtle about this, but it takes it’s time. For example, we first see Adam on a jog through the woods. There’s no reason to infer he is doing it for reasons other than health at first, but while hearing the confession of one of the boys, he advises him to go running as a means of absolving for his sins. This casts his motivation for running in a different light.
The film is aesthetically gorgeous and many shots are artfully balanced with an evocative soundtrack, which is important because the rather spare action and dialogue makes the film more a mood piece than a narrative. Actors Andrzej Chyra (Adam) and Mateusz Kosciukiewicz (Lucasz, the love interest) are terrific, carrying many scenes with only gesture and expression. Much is left to the audience’s imagination, which can be a powerful approach, but the audience is also tasked to try to make sense of plot elements and scenes that end up feeling disjointed or not undeveloped.
For instance, it is not immediately clear what has happened to a missing boy—a seemingly significant event—until it is mentioned only in passing several scenes later. Some scenes feel like stand alone vignettes, like that of a girl having a seizure or boys forcing a mentally challenged character to eat ants. Such scenes create an atmosphere, but because the film is punctuated by so many of them that are irrelevant to the central arc, cultivating a real interest in the characters takes effort until well into the film, and even then this interest is rarely sustained. One can see their struggles and appreciate their difficulties, but a feeling of detachment reigns over everyone on screen and in the seats.
“In The Name Of” is now showing at Sundance Cinemas.