Friday, November 1, 2013

Movie with Abe: Aftermath

Directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Released November 1, 2013

It’s not hard to find a Holocaust movie in a given calendar year, especially since they often make Oscar waves. Many of those films are made in the United States, but there are also European countries producing self-reflective films, like Austria’s “The Counterfeiters” and Poland’s “In Darkness.” Most take place during the Holocaust itself, but others take a more retrospective approach. In Polish director Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s new film, “Aftermath,” the Holocaust is a long-repressed but pervading aspect of society which comes to the surface in a captivating and haunting story about what happens when people start asking questions no one wants answered.

The subject of “Aftermath,” while discussed in detail in interviews about the death threats that star Maciej Stuhr received for taking his role and the extremely controversial reception the film got in Poland, is not abundantly clear from the beginning of the film. Jozef (Stuhr) returns to Poland after a twenty-year stint in Chicago. Upon arriving home, he finds that his brother Franek (Ireneusz Czop) has been ostracized from the community for unknown reasons. Jozef soon learns that Franek has been salvaging and removing Jewish gravestones from sixty years earlier, and his inexplicable actions have caused his neighbors to turn against him.

“Aftermath” is best described as a thriller, one which is keenly aware of its genre status from the start, presenting intrigue and a foreboding feel even before anything appears to be wrong. The reception Jozef receives in Poland is a chilly one, and something seems off from the moment he arrives. What adds to the film’s status as a suspenseful drama is that it is grounded in a historical context, based on documented events if not one specific true story. That makes “Aftermath” all the more frightening and thought-provoking.

Reading about the Polish reaction to “Aftermath” makes it all the more appealing, though it should be judged on its own merits rather than for the response it creates (see “The Passion of the Christ” as another example far away on the spectrum). “Aftermath” is not a typical Holocaust movie, and its removed present-day setting helps make the horror all the more real. The tension builds as the film progresses, leading to a devastating revelation and an extremely memorable, poignant conclusion. “Aftermath” is an interesting and contemplative portrait of collective guilt and mob mentality, effective both as a teaching tool and as an engaging film.


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