With controversial themes of racism, tradition and untold secrets in a small Polish town, “Aftermath” burns bright in the sea of next month’s US releases, write FMR’s Cate Baum
Aftermath tells the story of Franek, pulled back to his native Polish roots from Chicago after thirty years, to see his brother Jozek, who lives on the family farm outside Warsaw. They are both experiencing some kind of aftermath – Franek fled Poland years before and is teased for coming back home, while Jozek’s wife and kids have inexplicably left him and he’s the most hated man in town. When Franek finds out Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) has inexplicably ripped up a thoroughfare road surface nearby he must unravel the mystery – leading to a discovery that breaks open all they know about their family and the town around them.
The film has a strong storyline related to World War II and the slaughter of Polish Jews, which has been controversial in its home country. Menemsha Films, the distributor of Aftermath says,
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.
This unique gritty thriller is bound to true-life events, and so emotive that it’s easy to see why the reaction might have been so strong from a country where religion still plays such a huge part in all aspects of life.
Performances are tight, measured and well-rounded. Actors breathe life into the script in every corner with even cameo players adding to a dark and lustrous community of characters within the film’s grim premise – The human drive for survival in exceptional circumstances as violent, greedy and barbaric fuels performances with meaty and violent lines in even the oldest actors here.
Wladyslaw Pasikowski, the director, stuns from the first minute, narrating with simple and blunt motif from the off: We see Franek (Ireneusz Czop) arriving in Warsaw at the start of the film; his eye twitches just once as he irritatedly hands over his passport. It’s lean storytelling that keeps you guessing to a sad and horrifying end.
Exquisitely shot and colored, with images of Polish landscape like paintings that wash you in the atmosphere of 80’s Eastern Europe – maybe Franek feels nothing has changed since he left thirty years ago – “Hasn’t changed a bit.” he says, entering Jozek’s house. It’s no surprise that Polanski’s cinematographer on The Pianist, Pawel Edelman is at work as the DoP here.
Something about this movie reminded me of Almodovar’s The Skin I Live in or Arcel’s Dragon Tattoo, or maybe Music Box. The way the characters build, and the tension in silence, and also the absolutely native way the tradition, political situation and historical culture of Poland is presented. 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. This is where the genius of this script lies. To someone who knows nothing of Poland’s rich interior tapestry and relationships with the outside world, this film enlightens and interests succinctly without a history lesson, with an engrossing soundtrack from Jan Duszyński, (reminiscent of another Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner with his work on Three Colors).
In fact the criticism lies only in the way the subtitles have been produced. They are one beat behind all the time – I would like to see the subtitle when the character speaks, not half a second after, and there are some spelling mistakes in them: here/hear, drom/from, your/you’re, maybe/mebbe, for example, and odd words like ” vacationers” and “a 100 years” used in a sort of non-native way. Some sentences are not proof read and are missing words, “your brother didn’t back..”(?) This did spoil my enjoyment of the film occasionally.
This script is ripe for an American remake, but it’s pretty likely this Polish original will remain superior. A tense and intelligent haunting of a film absolutely recommended – an outstanding European seat-sticker. Catch it on its limited US run in November – dates below.
Inspired by actual events, Aftermath caused controversy in its native Poland due to its present-day reckoning with a dark period in that country’s history. The film won the Yad Vashem Chairman’s Award at this year’s Jerusalem Film Festival, and is coming soon to U.S. theaters:
Coming Soon to Chicago and more!
Learn more about Aftermath and watch the film’s trailer here.
Polish newspaper Gazeta mentions this review here