Truth Makes Free/Zieja ***
Dir: Robert Glinski. With: Andrzej Seweryn, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Mateusz Wieclawek. 110 mins. Cert: 15
Robert Glinski’s foursquare historical drama extends the national self-examination through priests Polish cinema initiated with 2018’s Kler/Clergy and last year’s Oscar-nominated Corpus Christi. Under surveillance here: real-life greybeard Father Jan Zieja (Andrzej Seweryn), who in the mid-1970s 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”; Glinski and screenwriter Wojciech Lepianka shoehorn roughly two volumes’ worth into a single, 110-minute sit.
The strongest scenes follow from the duel of wits between the slobby, complacent functionary, ladling sugar into his tea, and the in-every-sense 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 cuing up flashbacks that find Young Zieja (Mateusz Wieclawek) negotiating the World Wars and then a divided post-War Poland. Narratively, these flashbacks intend to illustrate the ultimate test of faith, but they never quite attain that internal dramatic and spiritual weight: Glinski’s caught leaning a little too enthusiastically into their guns and explosions, knowing full well they’ll convert a small, intimate talkfest into a project ready for multiplex consumption.
Circling one another and unexpectedly finding patches of common ground, Zamachowski and Seweryn are on such wily form that I wished Glinski had made that structuring interrogation the whole picture, although the second half digs into Zieja’s theology in ways that may chime with observers of 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 the part the theme to The Archers played in Zieja becoming such a totemic figure of liturgical liberalism. Handsomely austere, it’s the kind of production national film institutes typically finance so as to enter awards races, clinging doggedly to its truths, where (the admittedly fictional) Kler and Corpus Christi took the odd risk.
Truth Makes Free/Zieja opens in cinemas nationwide today.