Malgoska Szumowska’s debut feature ‘Elles’, in which Juliette Binoche played a chic journalist in Paris, wasn’t received too warmly by critics. Her second effort, ‘In The Name Of’, has turned this around. It’s a subtle accomplishment that has already won the Teddy Award at this years Berlin film festival. The two are more similar than they may first appear. Szumowska is clearly drawn to characters that wrestle with feelings of guilt and shame towards their sexuality. Whereas ‘Elles’ focused on a fashion writers sexual curiosity towards women after interviewing young prostitutes for a magazine feature, ‘In the Name Of’ examines a devout priest and his inner turmoil as he suppresses his homosexual desires. In both films we witness our protagonists masturbating, showing expressions of inner turmoil, and in the second feature this scene has a bluey-hue which is seemingly inspired by Steve McQueen’s Shame. For the record though, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Elles’ despite the backlash. It was a stylish, absorbing study of a stale marriage and a revealing look at young sex workers in the city.
Rather than the beauty of a middle-class French apartment however, in ‘In The Name of’ we have a rural Polish parish. Father Adam (Andrzjei Chrya) is the priest mentioned, devoted to his work but battling with his taste for alcohol and lust towards the male tearaways he mentors. He’s stoic, strong and an inspiration to those young and lost that come to him for stability. He runs every morning as a form of prayer and gets involved in manual labour with the boys from the reformatory. But he also has a cool, rebellious streak. He smokes and drinks from the bottle, and in one illuminating scene he stumbles around in his living room alone dancing to Band of Horses holding a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI for a partner, which is amusing and saddening in equal measure. When Lukasz (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) comes into his life, lust turns to love, and their genuine connecting brings some beautiful moments. Father Adam teaches him to swim, and afterwards they rather strangely run riot in a corn field making monkey noises. It’s like a scene from a Terence Malik film, only more jubilant. Although for the most part, ‘In The Name of’ is delicate and dignified, at times it lapses into melodrama. In one scene, Adam is drunk and dramatically sobbing to his sister on Skype. The nuanced performances and subtleties of expression render this hard-hitting method a tad unnecessary. In essence however, the film is sensitive and carefully traversed. It may be controversial to state that ‘Elles’ was as equally as affecting a drama, and the dramatically derogatory reviews were overtly harsh. Szumowska has clearly retaliated with a film, critics will struggle to be scathing about.