Poland/Japan, 2010; Dorota Kedzierzawska

In her dark, totally unsentimental films about children (Devils, Devils; Crows, I Am), Polish director Dorota Kedzierzawska has always gifted her youthful, mostly female protagonists with old, outlaw souls hungry for family and freedom. Even the lonely old woman facing her Time to Die (2007) possesses the lively face and maverick spirit of a wild child. In Tomorrow Will Be Better Kedzierzawska focuses on three boys, street kids as feral as abandoned cats or dogs, who set out to cross the Russian border into Poland, Huckleberry Finns lighting out for territories they might call home.

The ragamuffin trio consists of two older pals, perhaps 12, and an angelic urchin, no more than 6 or 7, who may suck his thumb and clutch a threadbare teddy bear but is already an old hand at staying alive—sly enough to use his sweet looks to charm bread from a toothless crone or break the heart of a hardcase cop. His big brother alternates between pretending to leave the troublesome kid behind and cradling him as a mother would a child. There are indissoluble "family" ties here, born not of nurture, but of nature and necessity. Kedzierzawska's lost children always hook up by choice, on the run, finding love outside clean, well-lighted places

These aren't Spielberg boys playing at hard times until the magic comes; they're tough brats with bright, knowing faces, survivalists in town and country. They live on another plane, almost in an alternate dimension, from the adults they encounter, armored by their boys' alliance against a world of very hard knocks. Romping through fields of golden grass, watching a couple make love in dappled woods, these skinny, mop-haired sprites might be elves, leftovers from some race older than humankind. Nonetheless, their dream of haven is strong, and the dangerous, nightlong border crossing is genuinely harrowing.

In all her films, Kedzierzawska creates settings so powerfully sensual in texture and lighting you feel you could reach out and touch the claustrophobic walls of the ugly Polish nighttown in Crows or the weathered wood of the beautiful, decaying home in Time to Die. In Tomorrow Will Be Better, life on the road provides unforgettable snapshots: glimpsed from a train, a lighted window framing a mother and her baby; the littlest boy dwarfed by a monstrous logging truck; three diminutive "hobos" walking abandoned railroad tracks in a tunnel of green; smoking and comparing "wee-wees" after a much-needed bath in a pond; a police van disappearing down a road that curves through a lovely, indifferent countryside.

Kedzierzawska is one of those rare artists who compose pure visual and spiritual poetry out of richly observed places and faces. In her often mysterious films, meaning—unhurried and wordless—accrues from movement, the journeys of holy outcasts questing for connection and true, but almost always elusive community. This Polish auteur doesn't make movies all that often, so don't miss Tomorrow Will Be Better. —KAM

Monday, June 6, 4:30 p.m. at SIFF Cinema

Copyright © 2011 by Kathleen Murphy