L'Etrange 2019 Review: THE MUTE Strikes With Brutal Clarity
Bartosz Konopka's film stars Krzysztof Pieczyński, Karol Bernacki, Jan Bijvoet, and Jeroen Perceval.
White saviors don't do much saving, really.
The Mute, aka Sword of God (Krew Boga)
The film screened at L'Etrange Festival .
After watching the film and thinking about it all night, I realize that the story of The Mute may make it sound thin, when it is anything but.
The story begins from the point of view of a religious man, surrounded by dead bodies. His ship has crossed a body of water and has now ended up on the shores of an island; Apparently, he is the only survivor, but a younger, blonde-haired man helps him to shore and calls him "bishop" (in the English subtitles).
The bishop has come to proselytize the island's residents by any means necessary. The locals reveal themselves as a stoic people in simple garments, their faces whitened by artificial means, speaking a language that the bishop does not understand.
No matter; he will make them become his version of Christians by force. A deadline of sorts is involved, since a ruler and his army will be arriving soon, and the bishop must convert the entire island if he is to survive adverse judgment by the ruler. Naturally, the locals resist, until the bishop performs what they consider to be a miracle and vanquish their own holy man to the ashes.
After creating that foreboding framework, filmmaker Bartosz Konopka allows plenty of space for introspection. The bishop is in a hurry and doesn't have much time for gentility, if he ever did. His religious convictions don't run very deep, either, and he never applies the principles behind the scriptures he recites by memory to his own life or actions.
He is the sort of religious leader who gives religion a bad name, yet is probably fairly typical for medieval times, at least according to histories that are available to us. One can only watch the film in dread of what will happen to the people, once the bishop knocks off their spiritual leadership and replaces it with his own harsh and brutal oversight.
As realized through the lens of cinematographer Jacek Podgórski. director Bartosz Konopka keeps the interactions between the bishop and the villagers very tight and intimate when it needs to be, while also allowing for the beauty of the island to serve as a backdrop. This makes for a distinctly uncomfortable drama, a sort of daytime religious noir where a dark outcome is fated from the outset, and we are only left to wonder if anyone will be left to survive.
The L'Etrange Festival runs through Sunday, September 15 . For more information, visit the official site.