In 1994, the late Antonia Bird paired up Linus Roach and Robert Carlisle for Priest (1994), the tale of a Catholic priest torn between the church and his homosexuality. Now, another female director, Malgorzata Szumowska tackles the same subject but from a different social perspective. In the Name Of (2013) is a poignant exploration of burgeoning homosexuality within both Polish society and the strict confinements of the Catholic Church. Adam (Andrzej Chyra), a charming but troubled man, arrives to take over a small parish in rural Poland. He soon becomes popular with his congregation and a pillar of the community.
Adjoined to his church is a youth centre, frequented by problematic teenagers. Following a violent gang fight, parish newcomer Lukasz arrives on Adam’s doorstep covered in cuts and bruises. Once cleaned up, the pair spend an innocent night together, sleeping on the sofa. Soon, however, the couple begin spending more time together and Adam finds it hard to disguise his attraction to Lukasz. Deeply pious and increasingly lonely, Adam rejects the advances of bored housewife Ewa (Maja Ostaszewska), but the temptation of Lukasz is much harder for him to resist. In the Name Of’s events unfold beneath a thick fog of tension and, as in Bird’s film, the focus remains firmly on the priest, with Adam often found in moments of deep solitude.
Whether running, bathing or sleeping, Chyra performs the role with a brooding anguish that shines from within and can only be read by Lukasz. There is slight discordance in Szumowska’s screenplay, her study of Adam at times becomes an unwelcome over-analysis which as a result, has a negative affect on the development of other characters, namely Lukasz, who is sadly reduced to the bearer of a loving gaze and not a great deal more. Cinematographer Michal Englert, who also co-wrote the screenplay, does a beautiful job of characterising Poland. From the dark and misty forest runs, that show Adam running off his sinful thoughts to the daytime heat of the sports field, Englert’s expert eye adds the depth required for a film of such great complexity.
Both aesthetically and in subject matter, the film shares a great deal with Christian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills (2012). However, it does lack the subtlety and grace of Mungiu’s film due to its gratuitous and unremitting attempt at homoeroticism amongst the shirtless, dehumanised and seemingly feral teenage cast. Sadly, it feels as if In the Name Of, only delivers one half of a story. If Lukasz had been constructed with the same thoroughness as Adam, this could have been something really special but unfortunately its bold promise fails to materialise. However, that’s not to say that the film doesn’t have some powerful moments, and it’s Chyra’s dedicated performance and his scenes of solitary torment that provides the film’s saving grace.