COMMUNION – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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Communion, a Polish documentary that feels like one of those gritty kitchen-sink British dramas from the early ‘60s, does a compelling job of depicting the emotional damage done when adults lack the maturity to take responsibility for their actions. Instead, with both of her separated parents incapable of providing the basics of life, it is left to 14-year-old Ola Kaczanowski to cook, clean and primarily take care of her challenging special-needs brother, Nikonem, including tutoring him for his First Communion.

Communion, of course, also means such things as breaking bread together, sharing love, affection and joy while providing emotional support. But Ola’s mother, Magda, is entangled with an abusive man with whom she shares a baby son and the girl’s beer-swilling, lazy father cares more about watching TV than being a nurturer and role model. That a welfare officer checks on Ola from time to time – she rarely rats out her dad, Marek, for his bad habits – suggests that authorities suspected at some point that all is not what it should be.

Ola glows when she is allowed to have fun and relax while surrounded by her peers, but the drudgery of her home life makes her sullen and frustrated. She takes it out on Nikonem, a child-liked 13-year-old who is fixated on animals and often imitates them. He can be a bit of a clown, such as when he goes to church for confession and ends up at a microphone at the pulpit, declaring “Jesus rules!” But he can barely tie his shoes or put on his belt properly without Ola’s assistance.

With no score and a verite type of lensing style, director Anna Zamecka keeps matters grounded in reality. But there might be some tweaking, in that it is somewhat convenient as a metaphor that when Magna attempts to move back into the family flat, she neglects to bring a complete crib for her baby. But just like Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, who bore the burden of saving her family, Ola is a highly watchable character who keeps us fully invested in Communion.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Communion is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for January 18, 2019

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.