SCREEN QUEST: COMMUNION

RADIANT CIRCUS went to see Anna Zamecka’s debut documentary feature COMMUNION at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (12 DEC 2017). Here’s our writeup.

COMMUNION (2016)

COMMUNION (aka Komunia) is the stunning debut documentary feature by Polish filmmaker Anna Zamecka. Bookending the delayed communion of a young boy with autism, Nikodem, the film focuses on his (slightly) older sister Ola and her default role of caring for a fragmented family.

Throughout, we are crammed into the extreme close quarters of the family’s dilapidated social home where opening and closing a broken wardrobe door or stoking the fire can become Sisyphean tasks of daily survival. Seemingly tough and in control, Ola suffers bouts of rage when her true, uncared for, child comes screaming to the surface. Always bubbling over with energy, Nikodem frequently retreats to the sanctuary of the bathtub where he finds comfort and runs commentary on the chaos.

The adults are enigmas. The booze-dependent father creates a literal smokescreen around himself, puffing away whilst proving ineffectual in all other matters. The mostly absent mother is unable to interact with her own life, distanced from her children, particularly her son. The only glimpses we get of outside influences – priests, social workers, school staff – make few inroads into the children’s lives.

COMMUNION (2016)

Interestingly, autism is never mentioned and Nikodem’s abilities are never discussed. He presents himself – and appears to be treated by everyone else – as just another teenage boy who behaves a bit differently and with whom his Mum and Dad fail to connect. Ola just gets on with him, shepherding her brother with the same expectations made of other boys in his communion class.

There’s no romanticising of difference but there are delightful moments such as when Nikodem’s notebooks are revealed to offer a more stimulating vision of religious education (one with added dinosaurs!) than that handed to him by the church. Ever the iconoclast, in another a gleeful moment he argues for gluttony to be a virtue rather than a sin, simply because he likes his food. For all his charm, there are significant challenges of need, care and routine, ones his parents routinely shun.

COMMUNION (2016)

Although never confronted directly, Zamecka’s camera intensifies the emotions crammed into the small apartment. When mother and new baby arrive for a swiftly abandoned attempt at reunion, the claustrophobia becomes overwhelming. This augmented reality extends to the central hook of the delayed communion which was suggested by Zamecka, and welcomed by the family. Creatively, the film’s stylised editing and cinematography considerably amplify what we are seeing, and why.

These are very real lives put under extremely close surveillance. Let down by pretty much everyone, Ola and Nikodem are burdened with (far far) too much, yet they are propelled onwards by love, faith and determination in the absence of adult alternatives. There are no neat bows wrapping inspiring story arcs or euphoric end-scenes. Zamecka’s film simply ends. Life carries on. And so must we.

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Featured images: COMMUNION (2016).

COMMUNION (2016) poster

Radiant Circus