“Hania,” Janusz Kaminski’s sophomore directorial feature, returns the esteemed cinematographer of “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” and numerous Spielberg films to his native Poland. Much visual texturing — almost too much — is expended on a rather intimate story otherwise treated with tonal and thesping restraint. But that attractive presentation can only do so much for Andrzej Golda’s screenplay, a sentimental Christmas tale about a childless couple and an orphan guest. Auds will either be sniffling or rolling their eyes when pic leaps from the predictable to awkward fantasy and shameless tearjerking. Theatrical export prospects are iffy.
Though she’s an open-hearted free spirit and he’s a grouch, Warsaw couple Ola (Agnieszka Grochowska) and Wojtek (Benjamin Lewandowski) are still in love after seven years’ marriage. But a chance meeting with still-smitten former paramour Janek (Bartek Kasprzykowski), who works at an orphanage, underlines Ola’s acute desire to start a family — something Wojtek resists, having had a difficult relationship with his father (Tadeus Borowski, seen in flashbacks).
Angered when her hubby accepts a graphic-design project that will glue him to the computer, Ola accepts Janek’s invitation to bring one of his young charges home for a Christmas stay-over. Somber, polite 8-year-old Kacpra (Maciej Stolarczyk) is a wee fount of mature wisdoms and offhandedly penetrating questions — part Dondi, part Dr. Ruth, part angel sent to teach these conflicted yuppies what’s really important in life, then leave this mortal coil amid a flood of healing tears. His best friend, called Hania, turns out to be a pine tree.
“Hania” the film pretty much sinks or swims dependent on your ability to accept such extreme, precious precociousness as inspired narrative hook rather than contrived gimmick. Neither script nor direction prepare auds for the revelation of Kacpra’s most special quality (think Peter Pan). Those already charmed won’t mind the abrupt leap into lachrymose fantasy; others will begin suffering sugar shock.
To Kaminski’s credit, his actors and staging downplay the tale’s eventually over-the-top sentimentality as best they can — even if this relatively realistic approach might render “Hania’s” required suspensions of disbelief more incongruous to some.
Perfs are thoughtful. Kaminski’s busy visual strategies — toying with focus and perspective almost as much as he did in “Diving Bell,” though without quite the same thematic justification — enliven what could have played as a static chamber piece. (Majority of the action is limited to the adult protags’ apartment.) Tech and design aspects are all first-rate.