At The Movies: The men in Corpus Christi and The Hater have to fake it to make it

Movie still from Corpus Christi.
Movie still from Corpus Christi.PHOTO: LIGHTHOUSE FILM DISTRIBUTION

SINGAPORE - Hey you! Are you disrespected and powerless? Do you feel oppressed? Why do some guys have it all - money, relationships, career - while you struggle?

This week's films might give you answers. From Poland comes the team of director Jan Komasa and screenwriter Mateusz Pacewicz, who peer into the hearts of society's second-raters, the wannabes and the losers.

Two recent projects of theirs - a drama and a thriller - showcase their ability to craft young male characters too creepy to like. Then before you know it, they have crept under your skin and become a little heroic.

In the psychological thriller The Hater (R21, 136 minutes, Netflix, 4 stars), Maciej Musialowski is Tomasz, or "Tomek" to his friends. The law student is the classic hovering guy, or in chat forum parlance, the "beta orbiter", a de-masculinising term that becomes more relevant as the story progresses.

The lad from the provinces becomes a drab satellite of the sparkling Krasucki family. He takes a special interest in the gorgeous daughter, Gabi (Vanessa Aleksander). The liberal elites and members of the "woke rich" pity Tomek, but quietly sneer at him. They happily accept his labour when he is recruited into their cause, yet shudder at the thought of seeing him as an equal.

What happens next is a gripping tale of revenge set in the culture of the right-wingers who infest gaming communities, the ones who wail about manhoods trampled by feminists and a proud white race erased by non-white immigrants.

Through Tomek's malevolent eyes, we see a Europe torn apart by carefully-scripted social media smears, made viral by bot farms in India that are created to weaponise Reddit, 4Chan and Facebook conspiracy theorists.

Komasa and Pacewicz create an ironic bleakness that often feels like them being edgy for its own sake, but by never losing sight of Tomek's hunger and humanity, this tragedy feels grounded in truth.

In the drama Corpus Christi (R21, 115 minutes, opens Sept 3 at selected Golden Village cinemas and The Projector, 4 stars), Komasa and Pacewicz take another alienated young man and weave his story into that of Poland's Catholic culture.

Daniel, played by Bartosz Bielenia, is sly, violent and possibly psychopathic. The inmate of a juvenile detention centre has an epiphany. In Catholic parlance, he has heard the call.

His criminal past, however, bars him from the seminary. Then, an opening presents itself and the natural-born trickster grabs it. The street punk is now a village priest, a powerful figure who hears confessions and gives comfort to the dying.

 
 
 

Poland's entry into the Best International Feature category of this year's Academy Awards, which made it into the final shortlist, offers a portrait of a spiritual faker that never goes for the obvious shots.

In the tradition of comic satire, one might expect the conman to expose the foibles of the Church and the gullibility of the local yokels. There is some of that, but this movie - released as part of the Polish Film Festival hosted by The Projector in September - avoids the smug religion-is-a-scam perspective.

Daniel gets what he wants - a pulpit from which to blast his radical take on the catechism - but faces the grim reality of the village priest's life, an existence that can be marked by drudgery, depression and worst of all, loneliness.

In the hands of Komasa and Pacewicz, Daniel is a creature of instinct and as such, can be frustratingly contradictory - animalistic yet God-fearing, violent yet empathetic - but the journey of the bogan who becomes a bogus cleric is never not interesting.

Other films opening this week but not reviewed include the Disney period fantasy drama Mulan (PG13, 115 minutes, opens Sept 4), a live-action version of the much-loved 1998 animated feature. It stars Liu Yifei, Donnie Yen, Jason Scott Lee, Yoson An, Gong Li and Jet Li, and will be reviewed in The Straits Times this week after the review embargo is lifted.


Movie still from Mulan. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

The Chinese romance fantasy Love You Forever (PG, 115 minutes, opens Sept 3at Golden Village cinemas) tells the story of childhood sweethearts, Lin Ge (Lee Hongchi) and Qiu Qian (Li Yitong), whose love cannot be defeated by death.