I think the world would embrace a truthful film about what happens in seminaries worldwide, as our news feeds relentlessly spill stories about abuse caused by religious leaders of all faiths. ONE STEP BEHIND THE SERAPHIM is writer/director Daniel Sandu’s autobiographical remembrance of his years in a seminary in Romania.
Stefan Iancu stars as Gabriel, a new seminarian dropped off by his parents into a strange new world. It looks like many men aspire to be priests, as the student body is plentiful and stocked with heroes who turn out to be rogues and villains who save the day. Seniors pick on the newbies, and the priests and religious leaders who run the place are happiest when all the students are snitching on each other. The plot twists - who gets expelled and why - can be hard to follow.
Yet Gabriel’s journey to survival and freedom is engaging as he explores his sex drive with a local, tips toes his way past many school violations, and creates an enterprising way to make money from local women responding to personal ads. The quick bit or carnival footage during the credits is quite fun.
Even in large group scenes, Iancu fully commands the screen and delivers a brilliant performance. He is a talent to watch. The large ensemble of students is substantial. But the sniveling priests are surprisingly dealt with few surprises.
The production is handsome. Cinematographer George Dascalescu respectfully captures the trappings and architecture of the church and school. The striking small town glimpsed outside the institution is beautiful enough to inspire a trip.
No doubt there are stark stories still to be told about men and women who seek to serve God yet are damaged by pastoral staff, tradition, and institutions. ONE STEP BEHIND THE SERAPHIM intrigues, but a shorter, punchier version would have more impact.