DRAMA FROM POLAND

‘In the Name Of’: Yearning for tenderness in a vale of cynicism | 2½ stars

Updated: 2013-11-06T01:34:00Z

By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS

The New York Times

Not rated | Time: 1:42

In Polish with subtitles

Bathing everyday cruelties in an ethereal, golden light, Malgoska Szumowska’s “In the Name Of” maximizes the tension between harsh content and softly seductive presentation. This dissonance between sight and sound is only one of the many contrasts that define this contemplative study of a young priest whose repressed desires threaten to derail his chosen vocation.

Transferred to a godforsaken parish in the Polish countryside, Father Adam (Andrzej Chyra) enjoys rowdy meals and knockabout soccer games with the pack of delinquent teenagers he cheerfully oversees. Medicating his urges with incessant jogging and occasional drinking, he’s nevertheless undone by two new acquaintances: a delicate young parishioner (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), whose Christlike appearance and tongue-tied vulnerability prove irresistible, and a platinum-haired sexual aggressor (Tomasz Schuchardt) who recognizes a kindred spirit.

Encouraging sensitive performances that mitigate the film’s sluggish pace and fuzzy narrative, Szumowska juxtaposes two-person scenes of wordless intimacy with group expressions of casual violence. In one disturbing episode, a girl having a seizure is surrounded by impassively staring villagers; in another, a gaggle of thugs feeds ants to the local simpleton.

As a soundtrack keening with anxious fiddles plays over tortured and gloating faces, we realize that there is no empathy here — even the restless wife who propositions Adam is motivated by boredom — and tenderness is virtually nonexistent. Seeking both, Adam keeps running, all the while knowing he can never escape himself.

(At Screenland Crown Center.)

| Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times

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