Despite some diffused messaging and oddly elliptical storytelling, "In the Name Of" proves an absorbing, at times hypnotic drama about religion, repression and sexuality. Although not dissimilar territory was covered nearly 20 years ago in Antonia Bird's controversial "Priest," this well-acted import, directed by Malgoska Szumowska, still feels timely and emotionally urgent.
Set in the Polish countryside, which, like much of what goes on here, can seem at once bleak and strangely beautiful, "Name" follows the plight of Father Adam (Andrzej Chyra), a recently transferred Catholic priest running — literally and figuratively — from same-sex attraction. The depth and sensitivity of Adam's secret longing are countered by the defiant brashness (read: "masculinity") of the delinquent teen boys in his care, a rowdy group who live near him in a kind of parish-run reformatory.
The physicality of these almost-men, whether seen playing soccer, doing manual labor or simply roughhousing (not for nothing, shirtlessness abounds), bubbles with a homoerotic charge that rarely feels gratuitous; in some respects, we're simply seeing the world through Adam's tortured eyes.
[For the record, 9 a.m. Nov. 15: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated "In the Name Of" is showing at Laemmle's NoHo 7, North Hollywood. The film is playing at Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood.]
En route, various characters — a suspicious teacher (Lukasz Simlat) and his lonely, seductive wife (Maja Ostaszewska); a tough but astute group-home newbie (Tomasz Schuchardt); the presiding bishop — threaten to upend Adam's fragile stasis. But it's the presence of a susceptible, ferally handsome young villager (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz) that will ultimately, er, force Adam's hand, with largely believable results.
Szumowska, who co-wrote the script with the film's first-rate cinematographer Michal Englert, effectively imbues this haunting, deeply reflective tale with equal parts tension, dread, desire and inevitability.
"In the Name Of." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes. In Polish with English subtitles. At Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood.