Cagey and Cryptic, Aftermath Examines the Futility of Attempting to Undo a Wrong

Cagey and Cryptic, <i>Aftermath</i> Examines the Futility of Attempting to Undo a Wrong

"We won't make the world a better place, but at least we won't make it worse," says Franciszek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) to his younger brother, Józef (Maciej Stuhr), near the climax of Wladyslaw Pasikowski's Aftermath. That stark cynicism permeates Pasikowski's unsettling historical drama. The story is simple — two siblings in a Polish village gradually learn of their kin and neighbors' barbaric Jew-baiting during the Holocaust — but what gives Aftermath its peculiar strain of portent is Pasikowski's consistent suggestion of the futility of bold, desperate attempts to undo a wrong.

Not only are there not heroes in Aftermath, there's not even a cut-and-dry protagonist. The director has lifted the material from both Jan T. Gross's 2000 book Neighbors, about the vicious 1941 pogroms in the Jewish-populated Jedwabne, and the 1996 documentary Shtetl, in which a Polish historian stumbles upon Jewish gravestones used to pave town roads. Pasikowski has said the near-decade-long effort to make Aftermath, impeded by Polish nationalists, stemmed from his own shame at these events. But the film is far from a polemic. Its anger is cagey and cryptic, and, at first, its voice of reason seems to belong to a bitter anti-Semite.

Franciszek returns from Chicago to his native Poland in 2001, having left 21 years ago in disgust with Poland's implementation of martial law. America wasn't much better for him, though, and he's bitter about his lowly asbestos work for the greedy "Yids" that "run" Chicago. He's determined to find out why Józef's wife and children have left for America — and why hooligans are beating Józef up and chucking rocks through his window. But Józef, stinging from Franciszek's abandonment — he refused to come back for both parents' funerals, and the family farm has suffered in his absence — isn't providing any answers.

Location Info

Map

Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

1886 Broadway
New York, NY 10023

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: West 60s

Cinema Village

22 E. 12th St.
New York, NY 10003

Category: Movie Theaters

Region: East Village

Details

Aftermath
Written and directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski
Menemsha Films
Opens November 1, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and Cinema Village



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What has stoked everyone's ire is Józef's reclamation of Jewish tombstones used as building material after World War II — in roads, farm structures, the local church well. He's bent on respecting the dead, and, unlike the fuming townsfolk — and his own brother — he sees the Jews as human.

In a more mundane film, Józef would be presented as the tragic noble figure, the one soul in a sea of evil who can see right from wrong. But Pasikowski doesn't shy from making Józef look somewhat ridiculous and misguided. Józef never explains his actions in terms more persuasive than "I kind of figured it wasn't right." He bears little remorse for the harm his martyrdom causes to those close to him, and his obsession seems rooted more in narcissism than a sudden affinity for the Jews. As Franciszek, thoroughly unmoved by Józef's actions, flatly puts it: "It doesn't matter; they are dead," and for the film's chilling first half that alarming notion seems to be Pasikowski's.

Aftermath becomes a more conventional thriller (complete with a booming, overwrought score) as the brothers uncover more secrets. Their own home once belonged to murdered Jews, and the Jews in their community were exterminated not by Nazis but fellow Poles. The brothers' assailants in town aren't portrayed with the same bracing complexity; they are one cartoonishly sputtering mob, screaming epithets, even calling the boys "Jews" themselves. There are a few cipher characters, a good priest and a bad priest. And, more problematically, Aftermath is unlikely to shock anyone outside rightwing circles in Poland — who refuse to do any finger-pointing at themselves — with the revelations that stretches of Poland still harbor a breed of violent anti-Semitism.

Aftermath is not merely a grandiose apology for Holocaust-era complicity. It taps a richer vein with its examination of why such an apology is ultimately so empty, even if it takes profound bravery to apologize. At the least, guilt over past collective wrongdoing does reveals a conscience, and here Pasikowski is essentially excoriating Poland for its lack of guilt. When Józef, at the film's end, can't come to terms with his family's involvement in genocide, he stands for a nation in its most vehement state of denial.



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3 comments
JPraski
JPraski

Recent trend to make all gentile Poles guilty of WWII war crimes, to demonized image of all Poles,  using  horrific murder of Polish Jews in Jedwabne  -  as collectively responsible for German war crimes, is an alteration of history.  This  is offensive to contemporary Poles who are protesting generalization and simplification of history. Similarly naming "collectively" Poles as Polish right-wing nationalists - is equally offensive. and simplistic.  All Poles, or majority of contemporary Poles, in Poland are not right-wing nor antisemitic. Still, they may have a problem with how this film may and is interpreted and generalized abroad. Reading the reviews about the "Aftermath", even before it has been widely in US, it  only gives a glimpse of what will be written later. 


Let me deconstruct one sentence in the article:"And, more problematically, Aftermath is unlikely to shock anyone outside rightwing circles in Poland -  who refuse to do any finger-pointing at themselves - with the revelations that stretches of Poland still harbor a breed of violent anti-Semitism" - WHERE in Poland now can be found any evidence of violent anti-Semitism? Has been in Poland , after 1989,  a recorded any "violent anti-Semitic incident"? What is the point of demonizing Poland and Poles now - using a movie, a thriller,  that describes, at the very end,  a violent anti-Semitic scene, that is taking place in  Poland, in 2001,  that is not based on any  recorded historical contemporary fact. This scene is supposed  to shake the audience at the very end  of the movie - and to suggest  that in the contemporary Poland incidents like that are possible. Whatever Pasikowski intended to convey, it is a pure imagination. It belongs to a thriller, not reality.
  I worry about the reviews of the "Aftermath", that are published in the New York Times, in the Huffington Post, or here in the Village Voice, and other places - that try to portray evil Poles and Poland now. Somehow the war crimes committed by Nazi Germany are not even mentioned in the reviews, it is all in the past for Germany, the real culprit of the Hell in the Bloodlands; and for Poland,  this is just a beginning of trying to turn the country, that ceased to exist on Sept 1st 1939, and was an apparent victim of Nazi Germany and Soviet Union, into an accomplice - and an accomplice with carefully  pointing fingers to ethnic Poles only, as a group,  as active participants in the Nazi German crimes. How this generalization became  possible? With a history of various ethnic groups living together in Poland, over the centuries, often ethnically intermixed, how the world managed to extract from the history, an evil, pure ethnic Pole, capable of the worst behavior. . Who are the evil ethnic pure Poles whom the World managed to extract with some, unknown to Poles, anthropological experiment?  What kind of myth is being sold to American viewers of this film, viewers who have limited knowledge of history.
 As one of the film reviewer wrote, Catherine Baum, writes:http://www.menemshafilms.com/reviews/aftermath-review-filmmaking-review: "The back story is crafted brilliantly – Poland becomes a whole character in itself, with a personality, mood and motivation – and not always in a good way. Poland has its dark underbelly."   Poland as a whole character? Poland now? The guilty contemporary, demonized, Poland? Anybody who is resisting such an interpretation becomes and evil  "Polish nationalist" who represents a  group that was behind"banning the movie in some Polish cinemas" - as the distributor, Menemsha Films states ( that is actually  a false statement, the movie was not banned in any place in Poland).
  Poland is doing well - since 1989 -  when, after 44 years of Soviet occupation,  finally was given a chance to rebuild,  has started truly rebuilding after the horrific war. Poland had to wait 44 years to be given an opportunity to restore the  infrastructure that was destroyed by Germans and Soviets during, and after  the War. Poland did not have the luxury of Germany that was rebuilt fast, right after the War, with the help of Marshall Plan. Germany not only became a leading economic power in Europe, but also redid its image by stressing that Nazi Germany and postwar German were two different countries - they were different countries, yet with the same people who were actively hiding their war past, and  blended seamlessly into the society. The world bought the story about new Germany and new Germans. Poland, the victim of Nazi Germany, that did not collaborate with Nazi Germany, does not have the same luxury now. The World in the collective interpreted memory sees Poland and Poles as the guilty nation.   Where is a balance, I am asking? 
  There are many in Poland who are ready to discuss history with all the facts, with all the wounds that have to be again reopen, that  most probably will never heal. Yet, the thriller like the "Aftermath", followed by black and white accusatory reviews, with loose interpretation, built-in preconceived hatred aimed at the contemporary Poland,   is not helpful in the dialogue - will not help to sort out the historical truth. 
  Poland is a fine country now, economically prospering. Poland is ready to face history without lies and distortions, without historical alterations that were imposed by the communist regime for many years. Collective memories of Polish citizens about Soviet and German occupation, were preserved in (some) families,  and after 70 years,  what is left are personal histories that are retained in younger generations. Poland's past deserves to be studied and discussed using historical facts only, without preconceived hateful generalizations; Polish history must studied by honest historians who are not driven by emotions. Poland, Poles, citizens of contemporary Poland, whatever is their ethnic background,  have right to find their  own way, to allow everybody individually to grieve the horrors that took place in the Bloodlands. 
    Calling Poles right-wing nationalists and anti-Semites is not a right way to start and to maintain  a dialogue.  Polish-Jewish relations are important to all Poles, and are being rebuilt in many ways. Why all interested, focus instead on continuing to rebuild such relationships, on preserving what is left, focus on honoring individual memories - without generalizations, memories of all families that survived in the Bloodlands.


JPraski
JPraski


   Recent trend to make all gentile Poles guilty of WWII war crimes, to demonized image of all Poles,  using  horrific murder of Polish Jews in Jedwabne  -  as collectively responsible for German war crimes, is an alteration of history.  This  is offensive to contemporary Poles who are protesting generalization and simplification of history. Similarly naming "collectively" Poles as Polish right-wing nationalists - is equally offensive. and simplistic.  All Poles, or majority of contemporary Poles, in Poland are not right-wing nor antisemitic. Still, they may have a problem with how this film may and is interpreted and generalized abroad. Reading the reviews about the "Aftermath", even before it has been widely in US, it  only gives a glimpse of what will be written later.

Let me deconstruct one sentence in the article:

"And, more problematically, Aftermath is unlikely to shock anyone outside rightwing circles in Poland -  who refuse to do any finger-pointing at themselves - with the revelations that stretches of Poland still harbor a breed of violent anti-Semitism" - WHERE in Poland now can be found any evidence of violent anti-Semitism? Has been in Poland , after 1989,  a recorded any "violent anti-Semitic incident"? What is the point of demonizing Poland and Poles now - using a movie, a thriller,  that describes, at the very end,  a violent anti-Semitic scene, that is taking place in  Poland, in 2001,  that is not based on any  recorded historical contemporary fact. This scene is supposed  to shake the audience at the very end  of the movie - and to suggest  that in the contemporary Poland incidents like that are possible. Whatever Pasikowski intended to convey, it is a pure imagination. It belongs to a thriller, not reality.

  I worry about the reviews of the "Aftermath", that are published in the New York Times, in the Huffington Post, or here in the Village Voice, and other places - that try to portray evil Poles and Poland now. Somehow the war crimes committed by Nazi Germany are not even mentioned in the reviews, it is all in the past for Germany, the real culprit of the Hell in the Bloodlands; and for Poland,  this is just a beginning of trying to turn the country, that ceased to exist on Sept 1st 1939, and was an apparent victim of Nazi Germany and Soviet Union, into an accomplice - and an accomplice with carefully  pointing fingers to ethnic Poles only, as a group,  as active participants in the Nazi German crimes. How this generalization became  possible? With a history of various ethnic groups living together in Poland, over the centuries, often ethnically intermixed, how the world managed to extract from the history, an evil, pure ethnic Pole, capable of the worst behavior. . Who are the evil ethnic pure Poles whom the World managed to extract with some, unknown to Poles, anthropological experiment?  What kind of myth is being sold to American viewers of this film, viewers who have limited knowledge of history.


 As one of the film reviewer wrote, Catherine Baum, writes:

http://www.menemshafilms.com/reviews/aftermath-review-filmmaking-review:

 "The back story is crafted brilliantly – Poland becomes a whole character in itself, with a personality, mood and motivation – and not always in a good way. Poland has its dark underbelly."   Poland as a whole character? Poland now? The guilty contemporary, demonized, Poland? Anybody who is resisting such an interpretation becomes and evil  "Polish nationalist" who represents a  group that was behind"banning the movie in some Polish cinemas" - as the distributor, Menemsha Films states ( that is actually  a false statement, the movie was not banned in any place in Poland).

  Poland is doing well - since 1989 -  when, after 44 years of Soviet occupation,  finally was given a chance to rebuild,  has started truly rebuilding after the horrific war. Poland had to wait 44 years to be given an opportunity to restore the  infrastructure that was destroyed by Germans and Soviets during, and after  the War. Poland did not have the luxury of Germany that was rebuilt fast, right after the War, with the help of Marshall Plan. Germany not only became a leading economic power in Europe, but also redid its image by stressing that Nazi Germany and postwar German were two different countries - they were different countries, yet with the same people who were actively hiding their war past, and  blended seamlessly into the society. The world bought the story about new Germany and new Germans. Poland, the victim of Nazi Germany, that did not collaborate with Nazi Germany, does not have the same luxury now. The World in the collective interpreted memory sees Poland and Poles as the guilty nation.   Where is a balance, I am asking?

  There are many in Poland who are ready to discuss history with all the facts, with all the wounds that have to be again reopen, that  most probably will never heal. Yet, the thriller like the "Aftermath", followed by black and white accusatory reviews, with loose interpretation, built-in preconceived hatred aimed at the contemporary Poland,   is not helpful in the dialogue - will not help to sort out the historical truth.

  Poland is a fine country now, economically prospering. Poland is ready to face history without lies and distortions, without historical alterations that were imposed by the communist regime for many years. Collective memories of Polish citizens about Soviet and German occupation, were preserved in (some) families,  and after 70 years,  what is left are personal histories that are retained in younger generations. Poland's past deserves to be studied and discussed using historical facts only, without preconceived hateful generalizations; Polish history must studied by honest historians who are not driven by emotions. Poland, Poles, citizens of contemporary Poland, whatever is their ethnic background,  have right to find their  own way, to allow everybody individually to grieve the horrors that took place in the Bloodlands.

    Calling Poles right-wing nationalists and anti-Semites is not a right way to start and to maintain  a dialogue.  Polish-Jewish relations are important to all Poles, and are being rebuilt in many ways. Why all interested, focus instead on continuing to rebuild such relationships, on preserving what is left, focus on honoring individual memories - without generalizations, memories of all families that survived in the Bloodlands.

JPraski
JPraski

 "At the least, guilt over past collective wrongdoing does reveals a conscience, and here Pasikowski is essentially excoriating Poland for its lack of guilt." - during the horrors of War World II, there was no collective wrongdoing only individual wrongdoing in the occupied Poland, done by individuals from various ethnic groups.    Collective wrongdoing applied  the German society that followed blindly Hitler, and let Hitler's army, and their followers to destroy Europe, implement Holocaust of all European  Jewis, and kill millions others, too. Isn't it interesting that word German does not appear in this article - how Germans, Germany managed to get away, by now,  with murder? with war crimes of WWII?The horrors of Jedwabne are responsibility of individuals who made wrong choices under encouragement of Germans who were slaughtering Jews, village after village, town after town,  in this region of occupied Poland. Even Jan Gross is quoted:  "Gross recognized that German forces were in Jedwabne during the massacre: "There was an outpost of German gendarmerie in Jedwabne, staffed by eleven men. We can also infer from various sources that a group of Gestapo men arrived in town by taxi either on that day or the previous one." (in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedwabne_pogrom),

  Poland is ready to discuss behavior of the outliers who, during the War,  behaved badly,  in the society that was left defenseless, society that was occupied by Soviets and Germans, during the War, and again, by Soviets, after the War.  The world must acknowledge all  the horrors that happened then in the Hell of Bloodlands, between Berlin and Moscow. There is a chance to discuss this period of history with all the facts. Almost everybody who survived the War in this region, in the German occupied territories, in the Bloodlands, did not survive it unscathed - some  individuals survived and harmed others,  some survived because others died instead, majority survived  being passive witnesses to the others being killed; and only a small fraction behaved as heroes: they fought, they protected others at a great risk (and maybe others died because of that,  too). Nobody survived the War unscathed.


 

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