The late Jerry Garcia would have been the ideal viewer for “The Sundial,” a chronicle of an aging Polish hippie couple’s relationship and unorthodox backwoods lifestyle. Like Garcia internationally, fuzzy-bearded director Andrzej Kondratiuk is something of a legendary cult guru in Poland. Pic rambles virtually plotless through almost two hours of self-reflection, and its commercial export prospects look nil, but as the completion piece in an autobiographical cycle of home-grown films, “The Sundial” may hitch a ride abroad with the earlier installments in fest retrospectives.
Like late fellow Pole Krzysztof Kieslowski before him, Kondratiuk has completed an ambitious film trilogy, which he’s tagged the “Family Cinema” series, beginning with “The Four Seasons of the Year,” followed by “The Spindle of Time,” which played at last year’s Karlovy Vary fest. But where Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy reached for wide audience appeal, this far-from-the-madding-mainstream filmmaker noodles about with his wife and filmmaking partner, actress Iga Cembrzynska, in virtual isolation, hand-making films out of their lives inside a Polish country cabin. Basic riff of Kondratiuk’s latest personal opus is the intercutting of pastoral scenes of the landscape around their country digs with mostly lighthearted and seemingly improvised jousting between the couple and loony, boozy romps with the locals.
Initial hour reps a challenge to non-buffs’ attention spans, but the second half is more involving, largely because Kondratiuk begins to reveal the dark chasm of alienation that has grown between the duo over the 16 years they’ve spent away from urban amenities. His proclivity to dally with the young actresses who populate his films has also taken its toll, and beneath the lackadaisical loopiness of little set pieces involving neighbors, nature and the digging of a cesspool, there’s an honest appraisal of the tensions of “the good life” and the limitations of matrimonial devotion.
No-budget production is astonishingly polished, considering that Kondratiuk and Cembrzynska craft their films out of little more than film stock and a passion for self-expression. Costuming and art direction are Spartan efforts created largely from found objects, and Kondratiuk’s handsome camerawork is assisted by non-pro neighbors drafted into service. Result is an oddity that has to be taken on its own terms, but if the viewer is willing to relax into the meandering pacing, the rewards are not insubstantial.