Wednesday, May 13, 2020

SWORD OF GOD (aka THE MUTE) (2018) Movie Review

Sword of God (aka The Mute) (2018) d. Bartosz Konopka (Poland) (100 min)

In the early Middle Ages, a contingent of knights embarks on a dangerous journey to spread Christianity and baptize the pagan inhabitants of an isolated village hidden deep in the mountains of a faraway island. After being shipwrecked, the two survivors, the elder Bishop Willibrord (Krzysztof Pieczynski) and a younger subservient (Karol Bernacki, credited as “Noname”), proceed with their mission, but as they attempt to convert the tribe, their diverging beliefs put them at odds with one another. Soon, love is confronted with hate, peace with violence, sanity with madness, and redemption with damnation.

A beautifully shot historical drama with horror overtones (the original Polish title, Krew Boga, translates to “God’s Blood”), Sword of God traveled the 2019 film festival circuit as The Mute for reasons that become vividly apparent in the film’s second act. Where Willibrord’s tools of conversion are largely based in intimidation and violence, the younger knight employs empathy and connection, culminating in the brutal and bold gesture that silences him but earns the tribe’s trust in so doing.

As the elder knight wins the favor of the strongest warriors in the community – the women and gentler souls ally with Noname – the golden rule of “might makes right” holds sway, and unconditional compassion shown to be no match for the sharp end of a sword. But a great leader is still just a man, and men are mortal; when the leader falls, those that remain follow the victor or meet a similar fate.

The script by Konopka, Przemyslaw Nowakowski, and Anna Wydra (previously Oscar-nominated for their short-subject documentary Rabbits à la Berlin) tackles numerous heavy subjects (the compulsion to dominate anyone who thinks differently, mob mentality, the cult of personality) by pitting these two “enlightened” men against one another. While the scales are certainly tipped in favor of Noname in terms of audience sympathy as he attempts to relate and engage with the natives on their own terms, the scene where the charismatic Willibrord challenges the local shaman to a trial by fire is devastating in its implications. Who is the true man of God?

Both lead performances are powerful and captivating, with Pieczynski conjuring images of a virile Donald Pleasance and Bernacki a blonder, more European-looking Michael Shannon. While the onscreen action hardly proceeds at a breakneck pace, Konopka and cinematographer Jacek Podgórski conjure a wealth of stunning imagery that sears deep into the gray matter, and the haunting musical score by Jerzy Rogiewicz perfectly matches the hauntingly beautiful visuals.

Sword of God was recently made available to watch online through Film Movement's Virtual Cinema, which allows viewers to support local independent theaters with their rental purchase, who receive half of the proceeds.

For more information about Film Movement, upcoming VC screenings, and their streaming channel, visit

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