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Robert Gliński’s foursquare historical drama extends the national self-examination through priests that Polish cinema initiated with Kler (2018) and last year’s Oscar-nominated Corpus Christi. Under surveillance here is real-life greybeard Father Jan Zieja (Andrzej Seweryn), who in the mid-70s found himself in the drab offices of security services major Adam Grosicki (Three Colours White’s Zbigniew Zamachowski), accused of preaching subversion while aiding anti-government factions. (The title derives from Zieja’s most quoted sermon, delivered to a colloquy of bishops amid rising Polish nationalism.) Reviewing the facts, Grosicki ventures: “It is enough for several biographies”, although Gliński and screenwriter Wojciech Lepianka shoehorn roughly two volumes’ worth into a 110-minute film.
The strongest scenes follow from the duel of wits between the slobby, complacent functionary, ladling sugar into his tea, and the upright cleric, constitutionally unable to rise to his interrogator’s bait. For a long while, however, the leads are employed almost as clip-show hosts, their needling conversation cueing up flashbacks that find young Zieja (Mateusz Więcławek) negotiating the world wars and a divided postwar Poland. Narratively, these flashbacks intend to illustrate the ultimate test of faith, but they never quite attain a dramatic or spiritual weight: Gliński leans a little too enthusiastically into guns and explosions, knowing full well they’ll convert a small, intimate talkfest into a project ready for multiplex consumption.
Circling one another and finding unexpected patches of common ground, Zamachowski and Seweryn are on such wily form that I wished Gliński had made that interrogation the whole picture, although the second half digs into Zieja’s theology in ways that may chime with Poland in 2020. As one sermon puts it: “The truth is being severely insulted today.” UK viewers will have the pleasure of discovering a story barely told on these shores – and in learning that the theme to The Archers played a part in Zieja becoming such a figure of liturgical liberalism.
Handsomely austere, this is the kind of production national film institutes typically finance so as to enter awards races. It clings doggedly to its truths, where (the admittedly fictional) Kler and Corpus Christi took the odd risk.
• Truth Makes Free is on digital platforms from 5 September.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Truth Makes Free review – Poland’s rebel priest meets his interrogator | Film