What does it mean to be queer in a religious town? That’s the question at the heart of Polish drama Daniel, originally titled All Our Fears, and one that is handled with the respect that such a topic deserves. A fictionalised account of gay catholic activist Daniel Rycharsti’s life, it follows him as he tries to organise the way of the cross for his recently deceased lesbian friend Jagoda. This ceremony honours the dead by paralleling Jesus’ final journey to Calvary, as loved ones carry a large wooden cross, however the town is unwilling to do this for her. This is both because she was a lesbian and because she took her own life…both of which are seen as sins.
This isn’t a quiet or subtle feeling held by the townsfolk either as several of them are openly hostile. They casually throw slurs around, force queer people to stand in a seperate group at the funeral, rev motorbikes at them and physically assault them. It’s actions like this that drove Jagoda to take her own life which, one could argue, makes the town culpable for her death. In a particularly moving scene, Daniel tells the local priest exactly this and further adds that nobody is free of sin. The priest reluctantly agrees before continuing to draw the line at suicide. Whilst deeply moving, this scene is also immensely infuriating as the priest jumps through as many hoops as possible to deny her a basic act of respect because of who she was and what she did.
This hatred is balanced by brief moments of levity, as life often is. Daniel has a boyfriend who he adores, even if they have to be secretive and the boyfriend runs back into the closet. Daniel’s mother, who he lives with because his mum is out of the picture and his dad ignores him, is wholeheartedly supportive. Many of the film’s most charming moments come in the relationship between these two, especially when she drives off a group of young adults on motorbikes hurling slurs. Daniel’s relationship with the museum curator is also very sweet as they can have drought moments but very clearly love each other. Moments like these don’t stop the pain of living a queer life when nobody wants you to, but they can at least numb it.The original title All Our Fears suits the film more than simply Daniel. This story presents openly and honestly the real fears that queer people must process, regardless of how religious their hometown is. Jagoda could be anyone in this community. All the attacks and the hatred spread fear, but the biggest fear is that lives can be lost because of them. The world needs films like this and people like Daniel.