“Aftermath” A Controversial Polish Film

Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) stands by Jewish gravestones in a burning field

aftermath POSTER


“Upon its release in Poland, Aftermath received acclaim and also generated intense controversy. Polish nationals have accused the film of being anti-Polish propaganda as well as a distortion of a sensitive piece of Polish history, leading the film to be banned in some Polish cinemas.” Now in US theaters, the film delves into a part of polish history that many would rather have been buried like the murdered Jews that are represented in this film. Although it’s a narrative, sometimes there’s a lot of truth in fiction.

The film opens with Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) arriving in Poland in the year 2000 from the United States where he had emigrated some 20 years ago. After a train ride in the Polish countryside, a bus ride and a long walk to the house where he grew up, he’s met by his brother Jozek (Maciej Stuhr).  Not happy with Franek because he didn’t come to his parent’s funeral, there’s a lot of hostility between the two.  But Franek wants to reconcile for his shortcomings and makes an attempt to win back his brother’s love.

Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) stands by Jewish gravestones in a burning field
Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) stands by Jewish gravestones in a burning field

During Franek’s stay he finds out that the town is upset with Jozek because he has torn up a good portion of an important road used by farmers and town’s people.  Delving into the discontent, he discovers that the damage was done by Josek’s recovery of the headstones of Jews that were murdered during World War II and now used as pavers.  Franek questions his brother who tells him he doesn’t know why he is gathering the headstones and putting them in his wheat field. He only feels it’s the right thing to do.

Franek keeps up his investigation against a lot of aggressive rejection. When he gets closer to the truth, it sets off violence in the small town.  Director Wladyslaw Pasikowski takes his time getting into his story before the first foot drops, showing the first major clue to a horrific crime committed by the villagers.  He hooks his audience with that first surprise then moves to his next.  He works his way to the awful truth brought about in the finale where no one’s spared from deprecation of the despicable act.

Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) and Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) in AFTERMATH
Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) and Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) in AFTERMATH

The main two actors are extremely good in their roles as the brothers who have to face an angry town that know little about what their families have done.  Czop and Stuhr show their characters at odds with each other over family and Josek’s stubborn devotion to the headstones.  Even when they uncover the truth the two actors are even more compelling in their roles.  This time they fight together to survive the attack on their lives and the farm.

The direction by Wladyslaw Pasikowski is brilliant and remarkable in the face of the controversial subject matter. Loosely based on the massacre in the book by Princeton University historian Jan Gross entitled ‘Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland, the film is so cringing and alarming that it’s almost hard to believe.

Franek gets confronted in AFTERMATH
Franek gets confronted in AFTERMATH

Aftermath has not been rated by the MPAA but contains violence and language.   The film plays in Polish with English Subtitles.  It was Poland’s selection for nomination in this year’s Academy Awards.

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Maciej Stuhr, Ireneusz Czop, Zbigniew Zamachowski
Directed by: Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Foreign
Language: In Polish with English Subtitles
MPAA Rating: Unrated (Violence, language)
Running Time: 1 hr 47 min
Release Date: January 31, 2014
Distributed by: Menemsha Films

Writer, critic, film editor John Delia, Sr. has been on all sides of the movie business from publications to film making. He has worked as a film critic with ACED Magazine for more than 20 years and other publications for a total of 40 years. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Florida. John is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association. Send John a message at jdelia@acedmagazine.com