Andrzej Chyra gives a striking performance as Father Adam, a gay priest in the absorbing drama “In the Name Of.” The film depicts the priest relocating to rural Poland, having been hired to help a group of troubled young men while also serving the members of his parish. Adam finds his work rewarding, but falls in love with Lukasz (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), one of the local young men, and is tested by the arrival of Adrian (Tomasz Schuchardt), a delinquent who discloses that the lonely priest is gay.
In a recent Skype session, Chyra talked about making “In the Name Of,” explaining the film, like “Floating Skyscrapers” — a Polish coming-out drama that played at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year — is part of his country’s emerging queer cinema. “For years, Polish cinema was mostly concerned with politics, history, and other things,” he said. “This year, we have a lot of films that touch on gay subjects. I think it’s good. We are closer to the worldview.”
Chyra, who is straight, has performed queer roles on stage and embraced the challenge of playing Adam, explaining, “It was a good experience to be gentle and sensitive and with other men on screen.” With an evident sense of pride, he added, “People were convinced” by his performance.
Adam is not a gay a stereotype, but he is an emotionally fragile man who is closeted and suffers from a drinking problem. Drunk, Father Adam admits to his sister via Skype, “I’m not a pedophile, I’m a faggot.” He is articulating his queer desires perhaps to himself as much as to his sibling.
Chyra sees his character as someone who is “very conscious of his desires. He tries to kill his desires — not even hide them. He wants to be honest and be a good priest.” The actor is not a practicing Catholic, but went to Mass with his grandmother when he was young, so he is familiar with the rituals, smells, pictures, symbols, and priests that fill a church. A priest’s garb, Chyra said, “tries to hide sexuality and desires on one hand and, on the other hand, it’s a strong erotic fetish. It’s also very important that he is in a uniform that tries to hide what’s inside the man. I think about what’s happening inside him — what he’s thinking, what he desires. He is supposed to be an example of a man not involved with desires. But he’s very human, like other people.”
Chyra said the director, Malgorzata Szumowska, and her co-writer, Michael Englert, were both much more familiar with the Church than he was. They selected the names Adam, Ewa — a woman in the community who comes on to Father Adam — and Lukasz as symbols. “The names represent Christian mythology,” the actor said, but he added. “We didn’t want to be strident. We wanted to use these elements and have the audience play with them — do what you want with this knowledge.”
In one particularly effective scene, Father Adam witnesses Adrian fucking one of the other young men, and the priest’s pain and struggle are evident. “Adam goes home and takes a shower, makes something to eat, but he can’t kill these thoughts,” Chyra recounted. “So he starts drinking, and he starts listening to music and dancing. And he has this picture of the pope and he starts to dance with the pope. That’s our solution to his situation.”
In another critical sequence, Father Adam is courting Lukasz while they walk home from a swimming lesson. When Lukasz abruptly runs into a cornfield, inviting Adam to chase him, the two men begin an erotic game of hide and seek in which they express their desires by baying at one another. “We had the subject of the scene and we were improvising a lot,” Chyra recalled. “I felt like Tarzan in the jungle. We played like animals and howled to communicate. It was great fun for us to play.”
Adam is attracted to the handsome young man, while Lukasz sees something desirable in the priest, but, Chyra noted, “They are completely different but in some ways very similar. They are lonely in their environment, in this society. They need someone warm who they can be close to. That makes them fall in love. They get closer and closer.” The intimacy that develops between the two men forms the emotional heart of “In the Name Of” and builds to the curious finale. Chyra’s strong, angst-ridden performance will keep viewers rapt throughout.
IN THE NAME OF | Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska | Film Movement | In Polish with English subtitles | Opening Oct. 30 | Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St. | filmforum.org