By Mark Pattison, Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Polish filmmaker Michal Kondrat said the title of his latest film, “PROPHET,” has two meanings.
The movie, a biopic about 20th-century Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, delves into the Polish Communist Party’s yearslong operation to delegitimize him. Prophet was the name of “the mission of getting rid of the cardinal and abolishing the Catholic Church,” said Michal Kondrat, the film’s director.
But it also bears that name because Cardinal Wyszynski, who was beatified in 2021, “discovered Karol Wojtyla,” he said. “And he supported Karol Wojtyla, who was (later) Pope John Paul II. He paved the path of Pope John Paul II.”
“PROPHET” will get a limited run on select U.S. screens Nov. 15 and Nov. 17, as part of the Fathom Events series of special screenings.
It hadn’t even made its premiere in Poland at the time of Kondrat’s Nov. 8 video interview with Catholic News Service from his home in Poland. Even so, when it bows on the big screen, it will be in just a few screens in some of the country’s biggest cities.
But “we have very good feedback from the first viewers,” Kondrat said. It will later be shown in France, Spain, England and Latin America.
“I chose him (as a film subject) because I was impressed because of his power and his courage, and it’s just a very important person,” Kondrat said. “By the grace of him, Cardinal Wojtyla became John Paul II. We can say that he helped to destroy communism in Poland and Eastern Europe. He’s very strong in Poland, but not only Poland.”
“PROPHET,” he added, “is very good for current times because of Ukraine and the Ukraine war. Because this is what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin wants: to come back (to) the communist times. So that’s why I think that a subject of the movie is very, very current.”
There is some nudity and foul language in the film. In the opening scene, a prisoner — which viewers later learn to be a Polish bishop — is dragged naked from his cell to be the victim of a torture session.
There also are a handful of isolated incidences where a character says a bad word that starts with the letter “F.”
“It was the language that they used,” Kondrat said, referring to Communist Party officials.
Some of the characters are composites to drive the narrative, “to show that Cardinal Wyszynski was very close to the people,” Kondrat told CNS, noting that “for example, when he comes back from the Vatican,” the first thing he did was to go “to the sickness — Kazia’s mother.”
Kazia is a girl who grows up on the streets of Warsaw because her mother is perpetually ill. She later becomes an object of the cardinal’s mercy, and provides him with opportunities to preach love and forgiveness in the face of hate and oppression.
Kondrat said the biggest challenge in filming was the scene of the December 1970 standoff between striking shipyard workers in Gdansk — later home of the Solidarnosc labor movement — and Polish riot police. The scene required 400 extras, 200 people in reenactment groups, and about 40 stunt men, according to Kondrat.
This film, called “Prorok” in Polish, is Kondrat’s fourth movie. The previous three all had religious themes, including “Faustina: Love and Mercy,” which had its own Fathom screenings shortly after its 2019 release; the other two are “Purgatory” and “Two Crowns.”
All four were financed in part by the Maximilian Kolbe Film Foundation, a Polish nonprofit that aids in faith-based filmmaking.
Religious films have become Kondrat’s stock in trade because “everything that you watch helps make you the person that you become,” he said. “That’s why I think that is important that to make movies with good values. Because I believe that the people also will also get back to seeing (this) kind of movie.”
It’s possible his next movie will get some financial assistance as well. Kondrat didn’t disclose the title, but the script is in English, and it will be made in English, he said. “The movie is about a few people that will die, and the action will be in purgatory. This will be something like science fiction.”
– – –