Though it's one of Eastern Europe's most cosmopolitan countries, Poland remains conservative at its core. Its never been a comfortable or safe place to be openly gay, though that may be starting to change, according to Polish actor Andrzej Chyra.
The actor plays Father Adam in a new film that must have raised many eyebrows in it's native country: In The Name Of is about the Father's struggles with homosexuality as he runs a home of delinquent boys.
Two of his charges are having sex with each other, while another boy in the nearby village has fallen in love with the tormented priest. Father Adam controls his sexual urges with alcohol in the dark and superbly intense drama.
The film tells its story quietly and slowly. Some of the boys figure out what Father Adam is struggling with. He comes home one night to find the word "fag" scrawled across his door. A colleague tries to "warn" the Bishop that Adam is looking at the boys in an "inappropriate" manner. The warning is ignored. As the Father's drinking increases, the neighborhood boy becomes determined to seduce him.
Chyra, now on tour to promote In the Name Of's American theatrical release, tells SFGN that Poland, by and large, is struggling to maintain its conservative roots, but that things are slowly changing.
"Conservatism remains very strong in the church," he said. "The church wants to silence liberals."
But as in other countries, people can be silenced for only so long.
"The box office wasn't bad," Chyra said of the film's Polish release. "Critics were good to it. People told me they liked it. The gay community liked it a lot: I have a lot of gay friends, and they were really touched by it. This is all very new in Poland, it's the first time this subject has been the main story in a film. It's very important that we don't hide this part of life. "
Chyra said that the film's underlying message crosses sexual boundaries. "It's not just a gay story, it's about loneliness and the need for love."
In the Name Of features a sequence that might have caused some Poles to gasp. One night, Father Adam, desperately fighting his own demons, sees two of the boys at the halfway house having sex. Both are seen fully nude, one on top of the other. Though the scene is in no way pornographic, its startlingly graphic when one considers where the film was made. We wondered how difficult it might be to find actors willing to portray lust and desire so openly.
"The blonde in that scene is a professional actor," he said. "Other boys are from the town where we filmed, and were not professionals. We didn't explain to them fully what the film is about." But of course, he said, they could see the film's themes as shooting progressed.
Chyra, who is straight, is no stranger to gay roles. Besides his lengthy film resume, he also works on the Polish stage. He's starred in Polish productions of the AIDS drama Angels in America and played Emory in the gay classic The Boys in the Band.
"Am I a role model?" Chyra wondered. "I don't know, maybe. I've also played bad guys. I don't think I'm the face of a people. I don't want to change the world, I want to start the conversation. Everyone wants to talk about this."
In the Name Of premiers Friday, November 15 in Miami at The Tower Theater, 2705 S.W. 3rd St. (www.towertheatermiami.com). The film is in Polish with English titles.David-Elijah Nahmod