A critical groundswell is afoot for the controversial Polish drama "Aftermath," which hit theaters in New York November 1, and comes to LA this weekend. Never heard of it? Here's what you need to know:
The film centers on two brothers, Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) and Franek (Ireneusz Czop) who discover a secret and are forced to revise their perception of their father, their entire family, their neighbors, and the history of their nation. Franek, the older brother, returns home to Poland after many years living in Chicago and discovers that his younger brother is being mysteriously threatened and shunned by local townspeople. What follows is a gothic tale of intrigue as the brothers are drawn into investigating the village's dark secrets.
Upon its release in Poland, "Aftermath" received intense criticism from Polish nationals, who accused the film of being "anti-Polish propaganda" and a gross manipulation of historical truth. It has so incensed the Polish right wing that it has been banned from some local cinemas, while its leading actor, Maciej Stuhr, has received death threats. It is written and directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski, and won the Yad Vashem Award at the 2013 Jerusalem Film Festival, as well as the Critics' Prize at the 2012 Gdynia Film Festival, Poland's major fest.
J. Hoberman for the New York Times:
Released in Poland in 2012, “Aftermath,” opening in the United States on Nov. 1, has reignited the controversy that surrounded the publication, in 2000, of “Neighbors” by the historian Jan T. Gross, a searing account of the covered-up slaughter in Jedwabne, a once half-Jewish village in northeastern Poland where hundreds of Jews, including children, were murdered in a savage pogrom in 1941...
“Aftermath” succeeds in bringing the past into the present. The director calls it “warning of how easy it is to cross the line between” using a slur “and regarding your neighbor as subhuman, then condemning him to death in a burning barn.”
Predicated on the unraveling of the social fabric, “Aftermath” is a thriller that’s meant to stun. As Mr. Pasikowski reported, “A lot of the film’s screenings ended in utter silence.”
Annette Insdorf for the Huffington Post:
Although the Polish film Aftermath seems to have nothing to do with Halloween, its release tomorrow at New York's Lincoln Plaza and Cinema Village invites a connection. This fictional drama -- which has elicited tremendous controversy in Poland -- is not simply about two brothers who investigate their father's actions during World War II; it is literally about a haunted house, and ghosts that never left the landscape of mass murder...
Aftermath is one of two new Polish films that tackle the complex legacy of Polish Jews and Polish Christians during the Holocaust; the other is Pawel Pawlikowski's Ida, which won the Grand Prize at the Gdynia Film Festival a few weeks ago, as well as the Critics' Prize at the Toronto Film Festival.
Kurt Osenlund for Time Out New York:
Even those familiar with the Jedwabne massacre of 1941 (a secrecy-shrouded slaughter of Polish Jews whose killers were eventually outed as locals rather than Nazi occupants) are likely to be riveted by Wladyslaw Pasikowski’s loose yet fearless retelling, banned in parts of its native country... With its slow-burn pacing and horrifying reveals, Aftermath remains a deeply compelling puzzle.
Kenneth Turan for the LA Times:
One of the most effective of "Aftermath's" notions is to make the investigators not the classic righteous Gentiles of so many Holocaust movies but angry, dissatisfied, antisocial, even borderline anti-Semitic individuals drawn into a quest for the truth almost against their will.
Strongly acted by Stuhr, Czop and a capable supporting cast, "Aftermath" succeeds, as films like this rarely do, on both the plot level (Pasikowski's earlier thriller, "Psy," was a major hit in Poland) and in its ability to be sensitive to the issues involved. Though its sensibility is different, "Aftermath" shares with "12 Years a Slave" a willingness to be unblinking in the face of great evil.
John DeFore for the Hollywood Reporter:
A Polish village is forced to acknowledge it has whitewashed Holocaust history in Aftermath, Wladyslaw Pasikowski's powerful but not bombastic fiction film inspired by actual events. Reportedly using the story of a mass killing in Jedwabne (detailed in the Jan Gross book "Neighbors") as a jumping-off point, Pasikowski imagines a community whose Catholic population was far more complicit in Nazi crimes than they admitted to their children, leaving half-buried secrets for later generations to uncover. The film has stirred controversy in Poland since its first screenings at the Warsaw Film Festival a year ago; it will draw less attention here, for obvious reasons, but its novel approach and assured execution should elicit strong reviews in an art house release.