Reviewed for Shockya.com by: Harvey Karten
Director: Anna Zamecka
Screenwriter: Anna Zamecka
Cast: Ola Kaczanowski, Nikodem Kaczanowski, Marek Kaczanowski, Magdalena Kaczanowski
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 1/2/19
Opens: January 4, 2019
In his book “Bowling Alone” author Robert D. Putnam laments the loss of American community using the sport of bowling as metaphor. In former times we used to have bowling leagues. Now those who attend alleys increasingly see men and women bowling by themselves, perhaps because they cannot find people to join them or maybe they prefer being away from the stress of bonding with others. A more serious situation occurs when children cannot even enjoy the stability that a two-parent family should be able to provide. This is true not only in America but in Poland as well. Anna Zamecka, in her debut as director, writer, editor and producer, knocks out quite an opener using a non-traditional documentary format, a fly-on-the-wall method to capture the tensions within a working class Polish household.
“Working class” would be a promotion in the Kaczanowska household. The father, Marek is lethargic, a layabout on the dole, a chain-smoker with a love of the bottle. It does not help that his wife Magdalena left him a few years back and now has a baby with an abusive spouse. Nikodem (was he named for the patch you wear on your shoulder to quit smoking?) is autistic, makes animal imitations and sounds. He moves his body about spastically. He is being prepped for communion at the age of thirteen, the local priest being too strict to accept the boy’s apparent deficiencies of memory. The star of the movie, though, is Ola, a fourteen-year-old who has friends her own age but is called upon at her tender years to be the majordomo of the family: to sweep, to prepare her brother for the upcoming service, to coax her dad away from the bottle. In other words she is being put upon to act the adult and naturally would like her mother to come back to the fold and restore stability to the dysfunctional family. The boy’s communion provides the opportunity for the get-together, and while the father is optimistic, Ola, more realistically, knows that the get-together will be but brief.
Given the lack of family functions the world-over, “Communion,” which as a narrative focus is about a specific religious event, is more broadly the effort to get four people to commune together, to stop bowling alone, so to speak. Dad, daughter and son are of course aware that the camera is on them, a feature that could serve, if anything, to increase the stress, which is all to the good. We are aware of the fragilities of family life, we are told that family is the one place to which we can escape the pressures of the outside world. But what happens when life within offers no respite to the life outside in the cold, cruel world? As the Kaczanowskis’ lives unfold, we wonder what will happen when mom flies the coop once again. We can ponder that no miracles will happen with them and, by extension, with so many of the folks in Poland, in the U.S., in Wherever. Ola turns in an authentic, semi-scripted performance but for pure entertainment, we cannot fail to focus our eyes on the hyperactive thirteen-year-old who, though his spasms reflect a sad condition of autism, his clownish behavior serves for us a laugh that gets caught short in our throats.
72 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B