Vet Polish TV director Artur Wiecek makes a pleasant, affecting feature debut with “An Angel in Cracow,” which drops its early tone of Capra-esque whimsy for a surprisingly moving telling of a friendly angel’s visit to Earth. After local run last fall, pic scored four Polish Film Award noms, including best film. Although it’s ultimately too slight for major festival play and its humorously filtered religiosity may be a bit rich for some, a fine cast and subtle treatment makes the film deserving of consideration by fests open to a spiritual-cum-absurdist angle in their programming.
Perhaps because the formula of Heaven’s bureaucrats sending a wayward angel on assignment to do good on Earth has been so often reworked through movie history, the opening section is nearly swamped in its own preciousness amid several knowing nods to a host of previous angelic comedies, from “Heaven Can Wait” (of which this is a kind of reversal) to Jan Kadar’s “The Angel Levine.”
Giordano (Krzysztof Globisz), a humble, roly-poly angel with a double-chin, likes nothing better than to hang out with Elvis strumming away on “Heartbreak Hotel” in Purgatory. The Big Boss upstairs, though, wants Giordano to take a crash course in all things human so he can go to Earth and do a daily good deed to counter the growing sadness among mortals.
Given the potential pitfalls in wringing out an already trite comic idea, Wiecek’s and co-scenarist and producer Witold Beres’ script restrains from going too far with the cute heavenly business; in “Cracow,” the joke is that a nefarious computer operator redirects Giordano from his planned destination in Holland to Poland, otherwise known as hell on Earth.
Actually, given how Wiecek and his talented lenser Piotr Trela lovingly depict it, this Poland is a place of bucolic countrysides and lovely, human-scaled burgs. Giordano quickly finds himself warming to the task at hand. Helping a stranded couple (Beata Schimscheiner, Andrzej Franczyk) on the road, he’s also able to convince them to reconsider their divorce plans by reciting his memory bank of Shakespearean love verse.
Giordano has an internal magnet for attracting people and a knack for finding those he can aid. He settles in with Hanka (Ewa Kaim), and her loving son, Karol (Kamil Bera), and it appears “An Angel in Cracow” is itself settling to resemble a Renoir painting.
But there’s sudden tragedy amid the joy — audacious in its subdued way. And even though the film feels as if it ends sooner than it should, it’s the rare fantasy that gives the viewer space to ponder the future of its characters past the end credits. Just under Globisz’ jolly surface, in fact, is a sad reflective quality, which contrasts with the everyday stresses and yearnings expressed by the strong supporting cast, led by Kaim.
While the angelic climes are uneasily designed (by Wiecek himself) and shot as something between a rosy, overexposed greeting card and a mock-Renaissance academy, the earthbound settings are so gloriously depicted one doubts an angel would care to return home.