Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does afford the opportunity to obtain (or reclaim) self-worth in Michal Rosa’s What the Sun Has Seen. In the Polish city of Silesia, teenage single mother and aspiring singer Marta (Dominika Kluzniak) sells tennis kits on the street in order to raise enough money to travel to Norway, where, according to a shady travel agent, a decent job awaits. In the same town square where she works, young Seba (Damian Hryniewicz) hawks garlic from a folding table with his father, lusts after Marta, who resembles his deceased mother, and periodically returns home to report the day’s sales to Mom’s grave, located in a cemetery that sits just outside his bedroom window. Meanwhile, Jozef (Krzysztof Stroinski) passes out flyers while wearing a chicken suit so he can pay for orthodontia work for his wife (Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieslak), whose teeth were ruined due to a car accident he caused. Disappointment mars their tough lives, but monotonous, unfocused drama and insufficiently developed, largely uninteresting characters tarnish Rosa’s grimly realistic depiction of their minor triumphs and not-so-minor difficulties. As the three unrelated stories come to overlap and intertwine in unexpected ways, What the Sun Has Seen’s preoccupation with economic hardship melds with a portrayal of lying—some told to these protagonists, others which they tell themselves—as the more pressing, constricting force thwarting their efforts to improve their situations. From Marta’s misplaced trust (and then self-deception) regarding her escape plans, to Seba’s faith in Dad’s account of Mom’s death, to Jozef and his wife’s joint fabrications about their long-absent son, Rosa identifies the means by which deceit frustrates the quest for contentment. His tale of economic adversity and interpersonal tensions, however, is sabotaged by a lethargic middle section whose many superfluous narrative diversions diminish the effect of a slightly unreal finale—during which the toppling of a local architectural landmark heralds the collapse of impediments to personal growth—that’s imbued with that most valuable of commodities: hope.
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