Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A bleak film but a necessary one"

There are an estimated 376,000 young carers in the UK. It's an astonishing figure, the more so because they tend to be invisible - often their responsibilities mean that they don't have social lives outside school so very few people realise what they're dealing with. Anna Zamecka's documentary zooms in close on the experiences of a girl in Poland who is living like this, inviting viewers to confront and understand the complexities of a family structure that is commonplace but rarely considered.

Ola is 14. Though she has a slight figure and a freckled face, something about her is more suggestive of a woman in her forties. Perhaps it's dejection, a lack of hope; perhaps it's actually the toughness with which she bears up under her burden. The illusion shifts from time to time when she's spending time with her brother Nikodem. Though only a couple of years younger, he behaves in many ways like a much younger child, perhaps because of his autism. Ola teaches him and cares for him but there are still moments when she's just his sister and the two tease each other and laugh, and there's a sense of life flourishing in a harsh climate.

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Along with her brother, Ola cares for her ailing father and for her mother, who no longer lives in the family home. It's clear that she'd like to have everybody back together but all of her effort is barely sufficient to keep them from drifting further apart. Meanwhile, Nikodem is preparing for his first communion, which he approaches with a sense of humour and self-assuredness not always appreciated in Catholicism. In one scene, a priest tries to talk to him about sins whilst he insists that he's different and that in his case gluttony is actually a virtue.

Zamecka is intrigued by the intensity of the relationships - whether positive or negative - within this struggling family. There's love there, for sure, but as we watch we're invited to wonder if that's really a positive force in Ola's life. Its presence seems to compound the absence of hope. There are also a myriad tensions as the instinct to survive prompts family members to lash out at one another, needing support but also fighting for the space in which to be themselves.

A bleak film but a necessary one, Communion is leavened with humour and quietly celebrates Ola's impressive endurance. It's a testament to all those who struggle on invisibly, a rallying cry for those who, after centuries of social change, continue to endure a drudgery that others have left far behind.

Reviewed on: 05 Jan 2019
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A documentary about a teenager who acts as a carer for every member of her family.

Director: Anna Zamecka

Writer: Anna Zamecka

Starring: Ola Kaczanowski

Year: 2016

Runtime: 72 minutes

Country: Poland


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