A sense of violent dread pervades every moment of Polish drama “Aftermath.” A simple story of two brothers reunited after 20 years is slowly revealed to be a complex power struggle between the legacy of the past and the possibilities of the future.
Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop), the son of a poor farmer, immigrated to the US in the 80s, but is having trouble achieving the American dream and blames Chicago Jews for his plight. He finally returns to his hometown, a small village in central Poland, when his brother’s wife arrives on his doorstep without explanation.
Franek finds that his brother Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) is shunned and threatened by the locals. He doesn’t understand what happened, and struggles to reconnect. He soon finds out the root of the problem: Jozek has rescued Jewish gravestones from roads, plazas and houses all over town. Franek’s latent anti-Semitism fights his familial loyalties as he takes on his brother’s quest to honor the Jewish dead, while the town does all it can to keep the past buried. Ultimately, the brothers uncover a horrifying secret. One chooses the path of righteousness, while the other succumbs to self-doubt.
Slow moving, but steady of hand, “Aftermath” deserves the acclaim it received upon release in Poland, and the controversy that followed it. Some cinemas banned the picture, and Polish Nationals accused the film of being anti-Polish propaganda. Clearly, some in Poland still struggle with accounting for actions in wartime.
“Aftermath” shows what happens when people have been given permission to be their darkest selves, and how they will try to cover it up afterwards. The images of Jewish headstones in a burning wheat field, and a group of Jews that locals call “vacationers” saying Kaddish are haunting. Not a film to be viewed lightly, “Aftermath” will hopefully open a dialogue about Polish complicity in WWII that is long overdue.
“Aftermath” is now playing in New York City and opens in Los Angeles on November 15.