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Film / Clergy

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Clergy (Kler) is a 2018 Polish film that tells the story of three Catholic priests. Afew years ago, a tragic fire bound their fates together. Now each year on the anniversary of the accident they've miraculously made through, they meet together to celebrate their survival. Each of them lives completely different life. Lisowski works for the Curia in a big city and rises up in the ranks, dreaming about job in Vatican. Unfortunately, he's too important and valuable for archbishop Mordowicz, a pompous and power-hungry dignitary, who uses Lisowski as his right-hand man. Trybus, in contrast to Lisowski, is a village parson. Working in a poverty-struck place, he's succumbing to all sorts of temptations, while barely getting by. And the third of them, Kukuła, despite his fervent faith and countless good initiatives, loses the trust of his parishioners overnight due to an unrelated scandal. As the plot unfolds, the fates of all three start to tangle even more, as they have to face or get hit by offshots of the growing problem in the Curia...


The film was intended as a hard-hitting drama, presenting the inner workings of the Catholic Church in Poland, focusing on all the uncomfortable, difficult, and often deliberately hidden subjects, along with the general handling of the entire institution. Probably a bit too hard-hitting, since even before the premiere, the Church hierarchy started to do its very best to if not suppress the release, then at least take people away from it... only to achieve the direct opposite effect.

Creating a nationwide sensation, with entire cinemas full and breaking few box office records, the film further gained in value soon after, when real-life scandal, mirroring the fictional plot of the film, surfaced.


This film provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Rysiek is beaten when his are sober enough to hit him, and forgotten completely when they're hammered. He has to provide for himself on a regular basis and more or less just resigned to his fate.
  • Affably Evil: Lisowski always, in each and every case, throws in simple acts of kindness, regardless of the shady things he's pulling. And then, in the end, his true colours are revealed.
  • The Alcoholic: Trybus. It's an Open Secret for everyone in his parish.
    Lisowski: (Reads from the Bible for their Drinking Game) "Don't try to prove your manhood by how much you can drink. Wine has been the ruin of many."
    Trybus: That's why I don't drink wine... The Wisdom of Sirach. Chapter 31, verse 25. (downs a shot anyway)
  • Alcoholic Parent: First time we see them, Rysiek's are both too drunk to even wake up when father Kukuła comes to visit.
  • Ambiguous Ending: While the final few scenes aim toward Downer Ending, there is still a chance the media craze around Kukuła's self-immolation is going to bring at least a portion of the dirt surrounding his suicide out. Of course, the film makes it crystal clear the Church hierarchy is immovable, but the scandal is still going to happen, for whatever it will bring.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Two of the priests working as low-level bureaucrats in the Curia have a relationship that isn't exactly friendship anymore and there are sexual undertones in their dialogues, but not much of it is shown. Far less ambiguous with the two nuns during the final, as they hold hands together and exchange lustful looks.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Priest Lisowski dreams about a cosy job in Vatican. Nothing will stop him, or even slow him down. Nothing.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: Before giving blessing by the end of a mass, Kukuła starts telling to the people gathered in the church a story, in a typical style of a sermon anecdote. Only this time it's about a young boy from poor family who was repeatively raped by his parson, beaten for "lying" by own disbelieving father and eventually becoming a priest himself, spending his entire life on attempt to bury the past. By the end of it, he barely controls his voice and is openly crying.
  • Arc Words: "The good of the Church demands it". Read: maintaining status quo by all means possible and interpreting Church as an institution and hierarchy, rather than a community or service.
  • The Atoner: A possible interpretation of Lisowski's good actions (and manipulating others into good deeds) - for all his corruption and machinations, he forces a lot of people, including The Mafiya preparing to wax him, to perform good deeds in the process.
  • The Bad Guy Wins:
    • Mordowicz gets his sanctuary started and all the pedo accusations within his Curia are dropped.
    • Using Manipulative Bastardry, Lisowski kills the investigation against pedophilia, prevents anything even resembling internal reform and gets a cozy spot in Vatican, just as he wanted.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Both the priest Lisowski and the archbishop Mordowicz. While Lisowski is just a lowly bureaucrat staying in the shadows, the archbishop manages to maintain a public image of a good shepherd, despite what he does.
  • Blackmail: Lisowski gets his hands on an old VHS tape with archbishop Mordowicz playing around with a dominatrix. He instantly uses it once Mordowicz receives a confidential letter from Kukuła, exposing all the machinations and paedophilia of Lisowski.
  • Break the Cutie: The vicar from Kukuła's parish is a young, idealistic, still uncorrupted priest. He then has to observe all the shit unfolding in relation with Kukuła and face reprisal by proxy just for being a priest himself. He ends up so beaten down and disillusioned, he starts contemplating quitting clergy out of disgust and fear - until Kukuła talks him out of it.
  • Brick Joke: Earlier on, it's mentioned that no bishop is ever going to waddle through mud, especially not the archbishop Mordowicz. Three guesses what he ends up doing in the third act.
  • Buy Them Off: Lisowski's routine way of dealing with most people is to simply bribe them with loads of cash or even more valuable favours. The only time it fails is when he's facing Kukuła and offering him money to stay silent. All this achieves is dead-setting Kukuła on the path to expose everything.
  • Cerebus Syndrome: The story starts as a Black Comedy and then slowly, but surely sheds more and more of the comedic elements, until there is nothing but pure tragedy left behind.
  • Chain of Deals: Lisowski performs an entire string of exchanges and shady deals, using each of his potential enemies against another and also throwing few bones to the dog in the process.
  • Character Development: Trybus goes from depressive alcoholic and promiscuous priest into dedicated partner and caring person, but it costs him an arm and a leg to get there.
  • Corrupt Church: That's what the movie is about.
  • Corrupt Politician: The archbishop dealing with few MPs and the politicians entering various deals with the Curia, with mutual exchange of bribes and favours.
  • Cunning Linguist: Lisowski is fluent in at least English, German and Italian.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Archbishop Mordowicz, regarded by the lay people as just a boring archbishop.
  • Dirty Cop: Heavily downplayed, but father Kukuła manages to get everyone free when drunk Lisowski and Trybus cause trouble - he does that simply by calling the commissioner.
  • Disappeared Dad: The dad of Zosia, Hanka's daughter, is completely unknown.
  • Downer Ending: Lisowski wins. Mordowicz and rest of the Curia quell all the newspaper investigations and media craze. All possibility of even tiniest of reforms is prevented. Kukuła, the only outright good one of the trio of friends, kills himself by self-immolation. And Trybus ultimately leaves clergy, but at least he is on a path of moral recovery and sorting his life out.
  • Drinking Game:
    • In the opening, all three main characters drink and play a game: read a random verse from the Bible, then point out which book, chapter and verse it is from. This is the first thing to hint that those aren't lay people, since this level of Bible familiarity is virtually non-existing in Poland.
    • Then they change it to a more common game: take a shot, run through all the rooms in the house to return to the table and drink another shot, all on timer. In the middle of it (and while completely wasted at that point), they are interrupted by altar boy showing up and asking for father Kukuła to give the last rites.
  • Driven to Suicide: Seeing that all his effort went to naught and every good deed he ever performed in his life was for nothing, Kukuła kills himself via self-immolation. Right in the middle of the sermon given by archbishop Mordowicz, in front of the gathered crowds and cameras.
  • Drunk Driver: The opening. Eventually, Trybus is left convinced that he killed a man during his stunt in the rain.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Trybus goes through a lot and ultimately quits clergy, but he is trying to make a family with a woman he loves and be a good father for the baby in the way. Most importantly, he is happier at the end of the story than he was at the beginning.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the opening, the main characters are partying and drinking hard, in a style more fitting Fratbros. Then they go right back to clerical duties when needed - and still drunk. Thus audiences know from the start neither of them is innocent, while it also helps to set the tone for lion share of the plot.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Despite appearing to be spread over few weeks, if not months, the entire plot happens within 11 days. Due to editing and the plot following three different characters, it's very easy to miss the actual flow of time, through.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Lisowski is a truly depraved, power-hungry, self-centered individual, who actively uses his image of aging, polite and soft-spoken priest for his advantage.
  • Faux Affably Evil: In-universe reputation of archbishop Mordowicz. Many people are aware of his evil antics and machinations, but he gets scot-free most of the time.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Quite literally. Kukuła, Lisowski and Trybus all three survived a fire of a sanctuary they've been in in the same time and the opening is their yearly celebration of the "divine rescue". This is also the only thing they truly have in common, making it a case of Odd Friendship: Kukuła is your regular parson from the downtown, Lisowski is a bureaucrat for archdiocese and Trybus is managing a tiny, poor, rural parish.
  • Former Regime Personnel: The new "winner" of the tender for heating in the constructed sanctuary used to be member of police section dedicated to assaults against clergy during the communist days. Which Lisowski learns from... a former member of Security Service, who now makes a living trading informations about old archive contentnote .
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • When Kukuła is sitting alone in an empty classroom, the blackboard behind him has the entire plan for the lesson written down - it's the Church take on the subject of in vitro.
    • The two nuns holding hands in the crowd in the end. Blink and you will miss them exchanging lustful looks.
  • Friend to All Children:
    • Kukuła is training the football team in an elementary school and shows genuine care for mistreated Rysiek. When he's suddenly charged of paedophilia, everyone thinks he did all this just to be closer to young boys.
    • Lisowski always makes sure to help orphans and needy children in general, as part of his Freudian Excuse of being an orphan. The fact he might be a paedo himself puts it in different light yet again.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Lisowski has been brought up in an Orphanage of Fear run by Nun Too Holy; by the end of the story, he joins a congregation in Vatican and plays everyone to do his whims, all the while remaining squeeky clean himself.
  • Funny Background Event: While Mordowicz is busy chewing out Lisowski and explaining him the situation regarding the letter he just received, in the background another priest is busy cleaning the archbishop's shoes from mud he had to walk through.
  • Gift-Giving Gaffe: When visiting an oncological ward for children, Lisowski is handling them game consoles as a present from the Curia... without thinking or checking if there would be enough TV sets to hook them up. While it looks like a mere set-up for a joke, this later adds to the general image of how self-centered Lisowski is, not really caring about anyone but himself and the "good boy points" he can easily score for own needs.
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Anna Zakrzewska, the reporter. Further contrasted with Hanka, who barely has the means to keep her daughter fed, and fashion is way out of her reach.
  • Good Shepherd: Kukuła, for all his personal failings, is still a dedicated priest trying to help everyone in his parish.
  • Good-Times Montage: During the ending. And inverted, since the entire Curia is celebrating their successful squash of journalistic investigation and having the time of their life because of it. Directly cut to the faces of victims of paedo priests from the documentary film they've managed to suppress from being published.
  • Gullible Lemmings: The lay people in general, regardless of who is manipulating them at any given moment.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Most of the humour comes from the extreme levels of cynicism and hypocrisy displayed by various priests. And as the plot progresses, the jokes slowly start to die, leaving only bigger dose of bitter hypocrisy behind.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Lisowski is this to Mordowicz, who's a self-centered boor. However, Mordowicz is just smart enough to know it, and he mercilessly lords his ecclesiastical authority over Lisowski because he's too useful to let him leave. This might be why Lisowski procures blackmail material even before big revelations hit. (The other reason being, obviously, to protect his skin when they do.)
  • Intrepid Reporter: Anna Zakrzewska, the reporter about to reveal the corruption scandal against Lisowski. She still gives him time to express his version of the events, but openly says the text will be published in two days, with or without the priest's commentary.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Lisowski offsets all his depravity with minor acts of good. And then you learn he's most likely a paedophile.
  • Kangaroo Court: After 30 years of living under the burden, a man eventually comes forward with a case of being sexually abused by his parson when he was a child. He faces a colegial court within the Curia which does nothing but belittle, threaten and insult the man for "attacking the Christ's Church for media plaudit", ignoring entirely his plight and instead insisting the priest in question is the victim here.
    The Victim: (after long, Stunned Silence) What are you doing? For God's sake... What are you doing?
  • Last-Name Basis: All three main characters. And each of them is adressed exactly once by their first name, so it's Fathers: Andrzej Kukuła, Tadeusz Trybus and Leszek Lisowski.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: Trybus is an alcoholic and sleeps with his housekeeper, then tries to force her to have an abortion. Oh, and he also apparently killed a man while drunk-driving. Normally that would be the rock-bottom for a priest, but compared with what's going on around Lisowski and archbishop Mordowicz, Trybus comes off like a saint. Not to mention his Character Arc is about getting out from said bottom, rather than digging deeper.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Lisowski visits children from oncological ward and ends up having a very hard time talking with a boy too young to even speak properly, but already dying of cancer. All he is capable of is giving the old and tired talk about God wanting certain people sooner in His kingdom, while being clearly uncomfortable with saying it.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Lisowski's literal job in the Curia is to manipulate the press and contractors building the sanctuary.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Lisowski, derived from "lis" - a fox.
    • Somewhat Lost in Translation, but Mordowicz is clearly derived from "morda" - mug, but also muzzle. "Morda" is also used for someone you can make illegal acts with, a sort of partner-in-crime.
  • Medal of Dishonor: Trybus is sincerely called "a good man" by a widow trying to bury her husband when he denies taking any money for the service. The priest is certain he was the one who run over the man while drunk-driving and is struggling under the guilt ever since.
  • Misplaced-Names Poster: Having four actors on the poster, the only one with properly lined name is Jakubik.
  • The Mob Boss Is Scarier: Lisowski goes through hell and high water to make sure the tender for heating the sanctuary goes to a specific shady dude rather than the other shady types. Solely because his life would be in direct danger if he doesn't deliver.
  • Never My Fault: The Curia never, ever, under any circumstances, accepts their blame for anything at all. More, they actively use this tactic for PR reasons, always claiming actions being conducted by "rogue priests" and "people who denied offered help", despite first throwing said people under the train.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: This is not a comedy poking fun at layabout priests. And even if there is some humour into it, it's as black as humanly possible.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Trybus is collecting money for new drain-pipes in his church. One day, he sees a construction team installing them and Hanka happily announces to him that they've got a gift from the faithful. Trybus facepalms and explains her the deal with his impoverished parish and how he's paying the bills.
    Trybus: It's about collecting it and not about having it collected, you dummy. What am I going to collect money for now?
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: If you know who-is-who in the Catholic Church hierarchy in Poland, along with local political scene, there are countless direct jabs toward specific public figures that never become too blatant, but are very obviously meant to represent specific people. This was part of the reason why Polish Episcopal Conference doubled down on attacks toward the film right after premiere.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Every single good deed and act of kindness Kukuła ever did ends up exploding in his face. Friend to All Children? Gets taken for a pedophile. Steps up against corruption? Gets thrown under the bus. Expose the whole thing? Gets ignored by lay people. And ultimately, he's Driven to Suicide, which still isn't guarantee to achieve anything, on top of being one of the most grevious sins for a Catholic.
  • Noble Demon: Lisowski, who always tries to do at least some good on the side. Ultimately subverted, as he's revealed as a self-serving paedo.
  • Nun Too Holy: The head of the Orphanage of Fear, sister Jukunda, who ran the place worse than a maximum security prison.
  • Nuns Are Spooky: Sister Jukunda definitely is, even as an old, frail woman.
  • Open Secret: It's openly stated people in his parish know about Trybus alcoholism, but just roll with it and never discuss the matter.
  • Pædo Hunt: Pretty much literally, since Kukuła ends up chased like a wild animal and barely avoids a brutal beat-up. And he is innocent.
  • Pedophile Priest: Big part of the movie is how the Church hierarchy is doing their very best to shove this problem under the carpet.
  • Red Herring:
    • Trybus didn't kill anyone with his Drunk Driver moment - it was a stray dog that he hit. He's still consumed by the guilt.
    • Kukuła isn't a pedophile, but up until he's rescued from the lynching mob and hard evidence of his innocence is given, the film continously and deliberately toys with the concept, providing various suggestions. This also applies in-universe, since grand majority of people have no idea about his alibi and instead follow the logical conclusion of the events.
  • Retired Monster: Father Stanisław, who abused young Kukuła, is living a calm life in a home for retired priests, free of any charges.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Aside of Polish, there are dialogues in Italian, German, Czech, Ukrainian and Polish sign language. All left untranslated.
    • In case of Italian, some of it is reverse-translated: Lisowski, as test of his own language skills, repeats various conversations he hears in Italian, but good luck figuring it out on your own if you don't know either Italian or Polish.
  • The Reveal: Quite a few:
    • Kukuła was abused by his parson as a kid. And he's not a paedo himself.
    • Lisowski was brought up in an orphanage run by nuns and is still traumatized by it, some 50 years later.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The crowd forms a triangle resembling the sign of divine providence in the final shot.
  • Signature Style: Heavy-hitting, controversial movie with an extremely bitter pill to swallow in the form of the ending and aesop, combined with quick editing techniques and droning music - classic Smarzowski. And just like his other works, it's not what it initially appears to be.
  • Sinister Minister: Archbishop Mordowicz and priest Lisowski. There is also the priest running a meeting for far-right militia in his office.
  • Stealing from the Till: One of the first hints of Father Lisowski's true nature is the fact he is asked for 120 thousands in cash from a quarry to deliver unregistered materials to a construction site, and the very next scene goes to the Curia and asks for 150 instead.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The lynching mob after Kukuła carries wooden railings to beat him up with, probably with lethal intent.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Ho, boy... Where to even start? It could be said the entire titular clergy is this.
  • Wham Line: Two:
    • Trybus is drinking himself into a stupor, until Hanka angrily stops him with just three words.
    Hanka: I am pregnant.
    • After Lisowski is informed by archbishop Mordowicz the Church is not going to protect him.
    Lisowski: Are you sure, comrade Piglet?
  • Who's Laughing Now?: Lisowski beating Mordowicz in their game of politics.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Assuming Kukuła wasn't acting out on depression alone, the self-immolation in front of dozens of cameras and crowd during Mordowicz's inauguration of the sanctuary, there is a chance Kukuła was doing it deliberately to either force the journalists to dig deeper into the investigation that got abandoned or, thanks to the amount of issues going in the archdiocese, drag Vatican into it.