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Aftermath Movie Review


Menemsha Films
Reviewed for Shockya by Harvey Karten. Data-based on
Grade: B+
Director: Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Screenwriter: Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Cast: Marcej Stuhr, Ireneusz Czop, Jerzy Radziwilowicz, Zuzana Fialová, Andrzej Mastalerz, Zbigniew Zamachowski
Screened at: Critics’ screener, NYC, 11/3/13
Opens: November 1, 2013

One mystery that has remains resolved by historians, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and thinking people everywhere is this: why is it that on the whole, some nations acts morally and some do not? World War II provides an excellent example. As the Nazis conquered one state after another, the people under German occupation resisted and collaborated to different degrees. The Danes acted well: when word got out that the Jews would be rounded up, Danes got thousands of them together and enabled them to escape to neutral Sweden. Albanians were great: they “converted” Jews to Islam and dressed them as shepherds: as a result, Albania had more Jews after the Holocaust than before. On the other hand, France acted largely in an immoral way, the gendarmes helping to round up the Jews for deportation to the camps. While many Polish people risked their lives by hiding Jews, at least one incident in their history stands out as the most atrocious. In 1941 in the village of Jebwabne (see the book Neighbors by Jan Gross), the Catholic population did not turn Jews over to Germans, but assured the Nazis that they, the Poles, would personally do what the SS had set out to do from the start. They herded the Jewish citizens together in a building and burned it to the ground, women, men, and children alike, then stole the property of the departed. Fearing that their heirs might some day come back, they were alert to any situation that might force them under current laws to return the property to the rightful owners.

Thereby comes the fictionalized tale, based on this actual event, as constructed by filmmaker Wladyslaw Pasikowski. While the entire story is told in the present tense with no generally expected flashbacks to the war, “Aftermath” is an engrossing tale well told, one which has been banned in parts of Poland despite being shown at the Warsaw Film Festival to an audience partly enraged, partly somber. Polish people are not ‘fessing up to what their grandparents may have done in this rural area, and treat those who insist on digging up the truth in the most hostile and even violent way.

The two people who angered Poles the most in this narrative are Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) and his estranged brother Józek (Maciej Stuhr). Franek, who did not attend the funeral of his parents as did his more conventional brother Józek, returns from his residence in Chicago to the village for the first time in decades, where he is met with understandable hostility not only from Józek but from almost all the local farmers and tradespeople. Both retain anti-Jewish feelings; Franek by insisting that “the Yids” have the Chicago industries so under control that “it’s difficult for a Pole to make a buck.” Józek’s view is more complicated. Though he, like his neighbors, considers Jews not to be “real Poles,” he has mysteriously dug up some stones used to pave the roads because the roadway is built with the gravestones of the departed Jews. He more or less insists that he’d do this for any group because “it’s not right to desecrate a cemetery.”

Now and then violence from the village breaks out against both brothers and Józek’s home, a shack, really, is filled with graffiti, a big “Jude” greeting passersby, and his dog is decapitated with a scythe. While Franek is dumfounded by his brothers’ actions, he slowly comes around to his kin’s morality as they learn the truth through visits to some older people who remember the atrocity and by looking at the municipal land records from a friendly caretaker.

Though Pasikowski hammers away at the unsavory actions of today’s villagers in much the way that Arthur Miller burrows through a similar act of corruption by suppliers to the U.S. air force in his first play, “All My Sons,” he appears to use blunt verbal force rather than a nuanced approach as he wants to reach as large an audience as possible—knowing that a great many people in today’s world may not have even heard of the Holocaust.

The film stands out as well because Pasikowski does not take the usual road of using Jews to find out about their unfortunate brethren but employs and all-Gentile Polish cast to recreate the events of that fateful year. Terrific acting by Ireneusz Czop and Maciej Stuhr, who in one scene appear to recreate the story of Cain and Abel
lifts this film into what could have been a tired history lesson into a force made all the more riveting because the writer-director takes appropriate liberties in order to revitalize an event. Despite its occurrence over seven decades previously, the barbarity is still adamantly denied by much of Poland today.
Unrated. 107 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+

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Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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