Film Review: ‘Communion’ (‘Komunia’) Falls Short of the Altar

In director Anna Zamecka‘s “Communion,” fourteen-year-old Ola Kaczanowska leads a peculiar and unfortunate kind of childhood. Aside from the normal struggles, a young Polish girl may face, Ola also doubles as the head of her household – cooking the meals, cleaning the diminutive apartment, and caring for her thirteen-year-old autistic brother, Nikodem, as he prepares for the Catholic sacrament of Holy Communion. Ola has the added responsibilities of attending to the needs of her drunken – and often times incompetent –  father while doing everything in her power to make sure the trio stays in contact with their absentee mother, who is estranged from the family with Ola’s infant sibling. To say her living arrangement is inadequate is an understatement, as the young lady must balance both the joys and pains of adolescence with some of the hardships that more commonly come with adulthood.

So much of Ola’s time is seen caring for her family that we only get small glimpses of her acting her age and being with her friends. The few moments where we do see her with her classmates seem to be consistently interrupted with her responsibilities to her father and brother, especially as the date of Holy Communion draws nearer. Ola works tirelessly to prepare Nikodem, patiently teaching him the prayers he must learn in order to pass the prerequisite exam.

Despite Ola’s best efforts to raise her brother, reel in her father, and make their home a place compatible for her mother and infant sibling, nothing seems to come easy for the young matriarch. And so we are left with a tale of shortcomings and exasperation, as we suffer through the frustrations of the film much like Ola does her entire surroundings.

Shortlisted for the Academy Awards Documentary Feature race, director Anna Zamecka’s “Communion” has received no less than sixteen citations from various Academies and critics groups. I, however, will not be joining in singing the film’s praise, and do not expect the film to advance with an Academy Award nomination.

Frustratingly dull and uneventful, “Communion” leaves us with very little to know about the Kaczanowska family’s backstory. Most notably missing are the details behind her parent’s separation, as well as what continues to make things so hard for her mother to say. Zamecka’s camera lingers a tad too long in each of the mind-numbing moments of the film, taking what should be a brisk 72-minute journey and making it feel like a three-hour dissertation. Instead of filling us in with a brief history of the family, or even allowing herself to ask the children questions that might get more to the soul of what we are watching them endure, we are simply left to observe their atypical existence. While I do not need the whole of their situation spoon-fed to me, some additional enlightenment to their course might have gone a long way towards making this film a tolerable experience.

“Communion” is being distributed by Wajda Studios and HBO Europe, and is now playing in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and will be part of a wider release as part of the Oscars Shortlist: Documentaries program.

GRADE: (★½)

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