The Culpable (2015), written and directed by Gerd Schneider, is a reflection on the moral choice of the bystander, in this case a Catholic priest who confronts the ugly reality of child sexual abuse inside his own fellowship. His decision—whether to report, or keep silent about the crimes of his colleague and friend—carries the film through intimate spaces, inside church, community, and the mind of a very human man of faith trying to do the right thing.
Jakob Volz is a priest who works on inmate rehabilitation in a prison, which could be any prison in any neighborhood in present-day Germany. When his colleague and friend, brother Dominik is arrested on suspicion of sexually molesting one of the teenage boys in their parish, Jakob is forced to re-evaluate not only his friendship with Dominik, but his place in a church that seeks to protect itself and its authority, no matter the cost to individual lives.
In a conversation with the audience after Sunday’s screening, Schneider admitted that the film—his first feature-length movie—took him almost six years to write, as he struggled to come to terms with his own feelings on faith, the church, and a vocation he almost dedicated his own life to. “I was very close to taking the cloth, so there are five years of research that went into this film,” he said.
Schneider's personal perspective, combined with incredible sensitivity and integrity in main character performances allows the film to transcend a story that in itself, isn’t new.
Sexual abuse in the Church is a tragedy most have become sadly familiar with. Films like Doubt (2008) and Spotlight (2015) have brought the issue to the big screen, to critical acclaim. Where The Culpable breaks new ground is in the intimacy of the acting, set in a spare, quiet landscape that Schneider keeps uncluttered and at times even homey.
There is nothing about this film or these characters that allows you to distance yourself from their feelings and their struggle. You will leave feeling that you’ve sat down to hear a good friend tell a hard, sad story, and you’ll be glad you listened.
(Photo: still from The Culpable)
The Culpable will be screened again on Tuesday 8 November at 9.30pm at Cinema Karim, Alexandria
Check here the complete programme of Panorama for Cairo, Alexandria, Ismailia and Port Said
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