Money offers solutions to Silesian strugglers but cash remains frustratingly elusive in solid Polish criss-crossing meller “What Sun Has Seen.” Follow-up to helmer-scripter Michal Rosa’s 2001 film “Silence” impresses with its sure-footed but deliberate pacing. Strong perfs based in gritty realism and appealing lensing make this ideal fest fare.
Pic begins with grubby-faced teen Seba (Damian Hryniewicz) on an illicit night mission to crawl over a cemetery wall to gather flowers for his mother’s grave. At the church’s adjoining cathedral, the intermittently employed fiftysomething Josef (Krzysztof Stroinski) attends an All Souls’ Eve church service with his wife (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak).
Amongst the choir, Josef notices the impressive vocal skills of 17-year-old Marta (Dominika Kluzniak). Driving home, the aging couple espy Seba embarking on his mourning escapade. Moved to think about their long-missing son, Josef crashes the truck, injuring his wife in the process.
Later that night, after making an audition pitch to the lead singer of a touring Norwegian pop band, single mom Marta believes leaving for Norway will solve all her problems with her musical career and finances.
To raise money for her escape, Marta takes to selling tennis practice kits in the town square. Watching her every move is vegetable-selling, sexually awakening Seba, who is reminded of his dead mother.
Feeling guilty about injuring his wife in the truck accident, Josef seeks to soothe her ongoing grief about their long missing son. Inspired by Seba’s resemblance to their offspring, Josef offers the impoverished youth money to pose as their son for communion pics the elderly couple can ill afford. Suspecting a sex scam, Seba refuses.
Narrative generally moves slowly, with little in the way of dramatic tension, but the ongoing frustration of trying to make ends meet is palpable. While strands, most significantly between Josef and Seba, do occasionally overlap, all converge in an oddball, almost mystical final reel. Finale seems somewhat forced, but satisfactorily capitalizes on the slow burn that has gone before.
All thesps bring authenticity and sincerity to their roles and newcomer Hryniewicz is well cast as the obsessive Seba. Helming is workmanlike with an occasional unobtrusive creative flourish. Lensing captures the dour atmosphere of poverty and struggle without overdoing it. Tech credits are good-quality.