Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Aftermath: A Small Hamlet in Poland
is a fact there were more righteous gentiles from Poland than any other
country. It is also a fact many Polish survivors
refused to return to homeland after the war.
There is a certain defensiveness that manifests itself when the Polish
Holocaust experience is discussed. Using
the term “Polish concentration camps” is sure to bring objections that these
were German death camps they just happened to build in occupied Poland for
reasons of logistics. This is a fair
point. Nonetheless, it was a complicated
period of history that Polish cinema has rarely addressed so defiantly
forthrightly as writer-director Władysław Pasikowski has with Aftermath (trailer here), which opens this
Friday in New York.
fate of Jewish Poles simply was not acknowledged during old regime, so there was
no cause to worry about potential consequences for past injustices. However, this was no longer necessarily the
case after the fall of Communism. Such
issues could not be further from Franek Kalina’s thought when he finally
returned to the ostensibly sleepy hamlet of his birth. The elder Kalina brother immigrated on the
eve of Martial Law and never looked back, until his sister-in-law unexpectedly
arrived in Chicago. Evidently, something
was wrong on the homefront, but her silence forced him to back his long
deferred homecoming journey.
is an awkward reunion to say the least. His
brother Jozek is not especially talkative either, but Kalina eventually
discovers why they have been shunned by the town. His brother has systematically collected the
Jewish grave markers the National Socialists had used to pave a local
thoroughfare and patch up certain municipal works, erecting a makeshift cemetery
in a corner of the family field. This is
not appreciated by their neighbors.
Initially, the Kalinas assume they merely resent the unpleasant
memories. However, the slowly discover
the town’s damning hidden history.
the well educated, Aftermath’s
revelations probably do not sound so stunning on paper, but Pasikowski’s slow
drip-by-drip revelations are brutally effective. This is the sort of film where viewers will
find themselves surprised to be surprised.
It is a bracing film that pulls no punches, yet there is redemption amid
the denial and intolerance it depicts.
In fact, there is something particularly moving about the rough hewn
Jozek Kalina, compelled to seek out and restore the headstones out of a
humanist impulse he is incapable of verbalizing.
Czop and Maciej Stuhr (the son of actor-director Jerzy Stuhr, renowned for his work
with Krzysztof Kieślowski) convincingly look and act like brothers. Their fraternal rivalry takes on Biblical
proportions, yet they clearly convey that instinctive bond. Aftermath
is their shared dominion, but they receive some distinctive support,
particularly from Danuta Szaflarska and Maria Garbowska, as elderly villagers
who perhaps partly know the dark truths the Kalina Brothers seek.
Considering the great Andrzej Wajda (who
co-wrote Katyn with Pasikowski) has
heartily endorsed Aftermath, it
should not be considered anti-Polish by any stretch. It is a tough,
uncompromising film, but a little bit of soul-searching is a healthy exercise. In America, agonizing over our past sins is practically
a national pastime. In contrast,
European nations seem far more inclined to consign less than edifying
historical episodes to the collective memory hole. There probably ought to be a
happier medium. Aftermath absolutely does its part in that regard. Despite a ragged
dramatic edge here or there, it is viscerally powerful as a whole. Recommended for those who appreciate outspoken
contemporary dramas with a keen sense of history, Aftermath opens this Friday (11/1) in New York at the Cinema
Labels: Polish Films