Anna Zamecka’s documentary is a story about growing up, depicted as the process of abandoning one’s illusions. This painful, beautiful film is one of the most frequently awarded documentaries of the past few years, including Best Documentary at the European Film Awards 2017.
On the day of Nikodem’s Holy Communion, Ola dresses her autistic brother to make him look smart for the church ceremony. A moment later, she dresses herself, devoting a lot of time to fastening her zip. She is not helped by anyone.
Ola is 14 years old. She is the head of the family. Her father is not good in handling reality. He does not know how to take care of the family, does not see their many everyday shortcomings. He likes to have a couple of beers and watch television. Nikodem, Ola's 13-year-old autistic brother, lives in his own world. He believes himself to be a wild animal. Their mother lives separately with another man and has a baby with him. Ola believes that her mother will soon come back home. Nikodem is to receive the Sacrament a few years late. For Ola, the celebration is a chance to unite her parents again.
Anna Zamecka’s debut documentary is a sensation at international festivals, winning in Locarno, Amsterdam, and Lipsk. Next to Zofia Kowalewska's Więzi, another intimate family portrait, Communion is the most awarded Polish documentary of the past few years. Its success is not a surprise as Zamecka's film is touching, beautiful, and very mature. When describing the girl who is forced to grow up too quickly, the debuting director avoids false tones, turgid figures, and big words. She seduces with the sweet and sour ambiance and the ability to talk about people without judging their morality.
During Communion, fans of Polish documentaries will immediately be reminded of Agnieszka Zwiefka’s Królowa Ciszy about a deaf-mute Romani girl and Lilia Duda's Hercules about a handicapped boy taking care of his dysfunctional parents. The aforementioned directors also tried to paint portraits of great little heroes who walk through life with their head held high. In both latter films, one can hear accusations against the world – against the inefficient state which is not able to guarantee children good care, the society which pushes entire social groups to its margins, and the transformation which was not equally fruitful for everyone.
One cannot find any accusations in Zamecka’s film. It is not a story of Ola’s fight with the evil world. She is the world – her emotions, regrets, desire for innocence and rest; her painful longing for her mother, love, and a return to the role of a child. Zamecka does not accuse anyone – neither the social services which are not able to solve the girl’s problems, nor Ola’s parents. The director sees the clumsiness of the father but also shows his true love for his children. Nor does she accuse the mother, who left her family for another man. The director explained in an interview with Piotr Czerkawski for Dziennik:
It is comfortable for us to believe that women enter the role of mother naturally, guided by natural instincts, whereas maternal love is unconditional. In Communion I tried to show that in spite of appearances it is not that easy.
Zamecka’s film is not about guilt and sin. It is a touching and at the same time funny story about the desire for closeness. The young director flawlessly balances between drama and comedy, juxtaposing the touching moments with humorous ones. A good example of this practice is when the teenager negotiates with her curfew with her father or when the handicapped Nikodem states that ‘overeating is not a sin for me. It is a virtue’ and argues that the three Christian virtues are faith, hope, and overeating.
However, the humorous counterparts do not change the overwhelming message of the film, which states that growing up is a road full of disappointments and to reach it, one has to abandon childish dreams and naïve images of oneself and those closest to us.
Anna Zamecka’s documentary is a mature work by a mature artist. Her film is touching but avoids too much sentimentality. It sometimes make us laugh but never loses its dramatic ambiance. Communion is a touching, beautiful and intelligent film – exactly like its young protagonist.
- Communion, written and directed by: Anna Zamecka. Cinematography: Małgorzata Szyłak. Produced by: Aurora Films. The film is also available on HBO. Premiere: 25 November 2016.