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Review: Polish drama ‘Aftermath’ sheds light on little known Holocaust atrocity

In 2001, a history book entitled Neighbors caused a tremendous amount of controversy in Poland and around the world. The book, written by Polish-American historian Jan Gross, chronicles the long swept-under-the-rug massacre of Polish Jews in the Jedwabne village in 1941. Reaction to the book ranged from shock and disbelief to dismissal and flat-out denial, especially throughout the central European country.

Polish drama ‘Aftermath’ sheds light on little known Holocaust atrocity (Photos)-slide0
Menemsha Films

Due to its controversial nature, it took over a decade for the story to finally get its long in-development film adaptation. As expected the film’s release reignited the controversy, which ultimately led to protests and the banning of the film in some areas. Though the book is a scholarly examination of real events, the film relays the basis of that story from a fictionalized perspective.

“The film isn’t an adaptation of the book, which is documented and factual, but the film did grow out of it, since it was the source of my knowledge and shame,” the director, Wladyslaw Pasikowski, explains to The New York Times.

Titled Aftermath, the film examines the controversy from a contemporary setting and without flashbacks. Franciszek, a Polish man who immigrated to America twenty years ago, finally returns home to help his troubled brother, Józef, save their family’s farm. When he arrives, he finds things are much worse than he imagined. His brother is distracted and unraveling as he digs up the past (literally) and the whole town has turned against him. As mystery and tension builds, they ultimately unearth a monumental secret and the resultant cover-up concerning the long-deceased Jewish residents of their village killed during World War II.

The film may take place in the present day, but the setting itself almost seems from the past. It takes Franek a plane, taxi, train, and bus ride – not to mention the last bit by foot – just to get to his brother’s farm. Once there, the village is so small, he still has to travel to a larger neighboring town (via bike or tractor) just to go the bank or buy clothes after his luggage is stolen. This all plays into the clear juxtaposition of the brothers (and maybe Poland, in general) – one is modern, laidback, Americanized, and always wearing a suit; the other is more traditional and detached, wearing his simple work clothes and has never left his hometown. But as the film progresses, Franek is stripped of his fancy clothes as he spends more time with his brother and gets just as absorbed in the town’s secret past.

Aftermath cleverly unfolds like a grand mystery, full of tension and unexpected turns. Given that the real story is not widely known in America outside of academic circles, it is best to leave the truly momentous revelations a secret for now (if you must know, you can certainly look it up). The film moves quickly and with purpose despite unevenly juggling a few different genres and influences (horror, thriller, etc). But while an ominous presence hangs over the film, Aftermath is a truly a character-driven drama about family, community, and the sensitive nature of how the past is remembered, and sometimes, changed.

Clearly, the film is not the typical Holocaust film you see churned out year after year with the hope of award season glory. Not only the contemporary setting and how the past is handled, but also, there is more behind it. The film is not just about the atrocities of the Holocaust, but how the public remembers and deals with it. Some (like the brothers and the author of the book that inspired the film) seek the truth at all cost, while others (like the townspeople) prefer to let things lie and refuse to rehash already painful memories.

An exchange between the brothers in the film, exemplifies this and the story in general:
“Why should you, of all people, care about their dead?”
“Well, you know, there is no one left to look after them.”

* * * ½ out of 5 stars


Aftermath opens Friday, March 27 at Chalmette Movies. The film screens at 2:00 and 7:00 p.m. daily.

So come out and support Chalmette Movies (8700 W. Judge Perez Dr.) by catching this new film, so that the theater can continue bringing interesting films like these to the New Orleans-area. Also, visit the theater’s website for more information, directions, showtimes, and ticket prices.


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