Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Joe is struggling to keep it together. He's not only losing his faith, he's losing his sense of identity. Something has happened that has thrown him off balance, shattered the illusions he had built up to protect himself. One day he gets down from the pulpit, tears off his priestly vestments and sets out on the road.

Where he's going isn't quite clear. The long, low tracking shots, the close focus on the road itself, suggest it's not yet clear to him either. He is, as he will acknowledge later, "looking for something." Perhaps that something is a way back to God, but getting there won't be easy and will involve taking an unusual direction.

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Early on, as Joe explores different approaches to moral action, it all goes a bit Death Wishy, but the film as a whole is more sophisticated than that. Reality is more complicated, adding to his sense of confusion. The use of flashbacks to convey this seems heavy-handed, though later the technique itself will come to make more sense. It's one of several aspects to the film that requires patience. Action takes place in loosely linked vignettes. In between, the pace often drags. This brings us closer to Joe's state of mind yet actor Paul Marlon, for all the powerful work he turns in in later scenes, can't quite carry the quieter parts. The film works when he's brooding, less so when he's simply feeling lost. Fortunately, there are occasional moments of absurdist humour to liven up this part of the film.

There's also Ana Gonzalez Bello. Her Maria is a runaway, a Mexican hitchhiker with troubles of her own, but despite the circumstances in which Joe first encounters her, she's no mere damsel in distress. If she can't quite face her own issues yet, she's more than ready to try to take on his. Travelling together, they develop an intense and refreshingly non-sexual relationship, with drink and drugs and with chess pieces used to explain national politics. There's a rawness to Bello that really gives her an edge, where most young actresses would be afraid to give their all to such a fierce (albeit naive) character.

Beautifully framed throughout, Communion is a film that suffers mainly from the scale of its ambition, never quite pulling off what it has taken on, but it has some strong moments and there's much to recommend it. It's most interesting as a film about morality and identity, exploring the way Joe has hidden from himself by helping others, perhaps sinfully neglecting his own needs. Alone on a beach, wrestling with the absence of God, he seems to be communing with some more primitive deity. The film is full of long shots that emphasise his smallness despite the aggressive physicality he sometimes displays. To find a way back to God, and to himself, he may need to commit a selfish act.

This is the sort of layered filmmaking that requires a lot of practice to get right. It's a bold effort and it marks out director Greg Hall as one to watch.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2013
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A priest who is losing his faith meets a rebellious hitchhiker as he hits the road looking for something he can't quite face.
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Director: Greg Hall

Writer: Greg Hall

Starring: Paul Marlon, Ana Gonzalez Bello, Roger Griffiths, Nick Nevern, Lee Ingleby

Year: 2013

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: UK


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