Polish teenager Ola has been forced into taking on more than she can handle at home. Her father is a procrastinating, clearly depressed, possibly alcoholic waste of space. Her mother has long since moved away and now has a new baby that takes up all of her time. Her 13-year old brother, Nikodem, has severe autism, and since her local school and church are ill equipped to help, and her parents are useless, she has become essentially his sole caregiver. In addition to already doing all the cleaning and chores around the house, 14-year-old Ola now has to make sure Nikodem is prepared for his Holy Communion ceremony and try to corral the members of her fractured family together for the event.
Early on in Anna Zamecka’s often heartbreaking Communion, which took home the Critic’s Week Prize at Locarno, viewers might be tempted to write Ola off as petulant, mean, and even abusive towards her brother, and some of the earlier scenes of the film are the toughest to take. But as Communion unfolds, it’s clear how Ola, who still maintains a shred of empathy and sympathy for those around her despite getting nothing back in return, has become so cold towards the world around her.
Zamecka’s film is both for better and worse a raw, unfiltered look at the daily life of a dysfunctional family in a culture that places more emphasis on religious ceremony than it does on human interaction or genuine empathy towards the less fortunate. One hopes better days are in store for Ola, but as evidenced by Communion, it’s already a minor miracle that she hasn’t snapped in a far worse way.