Saturday, December 29, 2018

Movie with Abe: Communion

Directed by Anna Zamecka
Opening January 4, 2018

The truest way to document something is to be in the experience with someone, acting as a fly on the wall as they go through their daily life. Being there to witness how people interact and how actions lead directly or indirectly to consequences helps to provide a greater understanding of what it means to be in someone else’s world. That form of documentary filmmaking may not be as common as hard-hitting exposés or portraits of a famous person’s life, but there is value to be found in placing a camera close to the members of a family and seeing what it manages to capture.

Ola doesn’t lead an easy life. She is fourteen years old yet easily ranks as the most dependable member of her family. Her brother Nikodem is thirteen and is autistic. Her father has a problem with alcohol and can’t seem to stay sober even when a case worker makes a visit to check in on the family. Her mother is nowhere to be found, yet she’ll likely come to the communion that Nikodem is preparing for, with the assistance of the sister who knows how to guide him in learning the required material and answering the questions he must know in a way that works with his personality.

Ola is definitely this film’s protagonist, fighting constantly with the father who can’t take care of himself or his son but insists on still giving her a curfew that she feels she must obey. She is mature yet at the same time still a teenager, placed in a difficult situation but also focused on remaining popular with her friends and helping her brother succeed while not spending too much time with him. The undercurrent of religious values emphasized by school teachers provides an additional, though not necessarily healthy, identity for this family that hardly seems to be their priority in existing day to day.

This Polish documentary, which runs just one hour and twelve minutes, made the fifteen-film shortlist for the Oscar for Best Documentary. It’s very unlike the rest of the films, with the presence of its camera and who holds it never acknowledged. Its title references the event that might serve either as a healing opportunity or another chance for explosive disaster for this family, and that mysterious camera sits with its subjects as it looms. Those content merely to watch and see vulnerability and humanity unfold on screen may be entranced, but this film doesn’t include all too much direction or focus that might have enlivened it and underscored its effectiveness.


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