This angst-ridden drama treats loaded subject matter -- homosexuality, priests who break their vows -- in a way that feels far past its sell-by date in the West.

A lonely, troubled priest running a boy’s detention center in an unpleasant Polish backwater becomes smitten with a feral teen from the countryside in Malgoska Szumowska’s angst-ridden drama “In the Name of.” Treating loaded subject matter — homosexuality, priests who break their vows — in a way that feels far past its sell-by date in the West (after all, it’s been nearly 20 years since Antonia Bird’s “Priest”), the pic is unlikely to replicate the offshore sales of the helmer’s international arthouse pickup “Elles,” but should travel extensively on the Polish fest circuit.

As his bishop says, sensitive Father Adam (Polish star Andrzej Chyra) has great success with delinquent boys. He keeps the rough crowd he’s currently working with out of the reformatory by supervising them as they break rocks for construction projects, play soccer and unwillingly confess their sins.

Wild pyromaniac Lukasz (up-and-comer Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, now the helmer’s husband), a nearly mute local with a mentally disabled brother, spends some recreation time with the boys’ center inmates. When he appears, covered with blood, on Adam’s doorstep in the middle of the night, the priest ministers to the wounded lad, in the process awakening the physical desires he seeks to repress through his daily runs in the forest.

At the one-hour mark, what had first appeared to be a grungy slice of redneck life turns melodramatic as Adam hits the bottle, and tough new boy Adrian (Tomasz Schuchardt) spreads rumors about Adam’s sexuality while stirring up trouble elsewhere at he center. On a bender, Adam tearfully confesses to his sister in Toronto via Skype, “I’m not a pedophile — just a faggot.”

The screenplay by Szumowska and Michal Englert is careful not to judge its protagonist; in press notes, the director insists the story is about love and longing rather than the real-life scandals of the church. At the same time, Szumowska uses Christian imagery throughout in a way that seems likely to court controversy. Although the film has already been attacked, sight unseen, in the Polish press for daring to depict a gay priest, local viewers may be more upset by the portrayal of a narrow-minded, homophobic, anti-Semitic, provincial Poland, and of a church bureaucracy that transfers priests with questionable pasts from posting to posting.

While thesps Chyra and Kosciukiewicz (who were cast as father and son in Jacek Borcuch’s “All That I Love”) embody the physical aspect of their characters’ relationship comfortably enough, their pairing as lovers lacks both chemistry and narrative credibility. Restless lensing by Englert, Szumowska’s longtime cameraman (also serving as co-producer and co-scribe), bathes much of the proceedings in a golden light, an odd choice for the mostly gritty action. Love scenes are accompanied by a gratingly saccharine theme by Szumowska’s usual composers, Pawel Mykietyn and Adam Walicki.

In the Name of

Poland

Production

A Kino Swiat release of a Mental Disorder 4 production in co-production with Canal Plus Poland, Zentropa Intl. Poland with the support of the Polish Film Institute. (International sales: Memento, Paris.) Produced by Agnieszka Kurzydlo. Co-producers, Beata Ryczkowska, Malgoska Szumowska, Peter Garde, Michal Englert. Directed by Malgoska Szumowska. Screenplay, Szumowska, Michal Englert.

Crew

Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Englert; editor, Jacek Drosio; music, Pawel Mykietyn, Adam Walicki; production designer, Marek Zawierucha; costume designers, Katarzyna Lewinska, Julia Jarza-Bratiniec; sound (Dolby Digital), Maria Chilarecka, Krzysztof Stasiak. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 8, 2013. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Andrzej Chyra, Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Lukasz Simlat, Maja Ostaszewska, Tomasz Schuchardt.

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