Three Russian-speaking ragamuffins journey across a border into Poland in search of an improved life in affecting but uneven drama “Tomorrow Will Be Better.” As with many of Polish writer-helmer Dorota Kedzierzawska’s pics (“I Am,” “Crows”), the youthful castmembers deliver extraordinary, spontaneous perfs, here in service of a heartrending, drawn-from-headlines story, which highlights the awful, daily deprivations faced by kids in Eastern Europe. However, the pic’s meandering script, co-written by Kedzierzawska and producer/lenser/co-editor Arthur Reinhart, isn’t quite up to their usual standard. Pic should continue its festival travels, but will struggle to find a tomorrow in distribution outside Poland.
Dialogue never makes it quite clear in which city or country brothers Petya (6-year-old Ukrainian Oleg Ryba, adorable despite his atrociously rotted teeth) and Vasya (10-year-old Evgeny Ryba, real-life brother of Oleg) and their friend, Lyapa (Chechnya-born Akhmed Sardalov, 11), are living when the action starts — certainly nowhere permanent, since most of the time they drift around train stations and street markets, begging and stealing food. Press notes state the pic was entirely filmed in northeastern Poland, which would suggest the first half unfolds in Belorussia, but geography matters very little to the core trio, who barely know or care where or whom their parents are, let alone which state it is that’s failing to care for them.
What they do know is there might be a chance for a better life if they can get across the border into Poland. So after a visti to an old man (Zygmunt Gorodowienko), and a lift from a trucker (Stanislaw Zawadzki), they set out on foot for the border.
A beautifully lensed but slightly too long night sequence observes them crawling under barbed wire, possibly electrified, at the border, before they walk into a small Polish town and demand that the local police take them in. The cop on duty (Stanislaw Soyka, expressively schlubby) knows that all the kids have to do is say the word “asylum” to gain a longer stay instead of being sent straight back to wherever they came from, but he’s of two minds about whether to tip them off.
Although there are definitely good bits and standout scenes (particularly a wedding sequence and the pic’s denouement), “Tomorrow” rambles somewhat aimlessly, like its protagonists, tightening up only in the last reels. More naturalistic than Kedzierzawska’s stylized last project, the monochrome old-crone-focused “Time to Die,” and lacking a score as swooning and rich as the one Michael Nyman composed for “I Am,” “Tomorrow Will Be Better” feels a bit humdrum, even a bit pat, especially given its resigned, too-easy indomitable-spirit-of-innocence conclusion.
For the record, the pic won the Grand Prix from the Generation Kplus Intl. Jury at this year’s Berlinale.