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.