"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 cynicism permeates Pasikowski's unsettling historical drama. The story is simple—two siblings in a Polish village gradually learn of the barbaric Jew-baiting by their kin and neighbors 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. 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 an unapologetic anti-Semite. Franciszek returns from Chicago to his native Poland determined to find out why Józef's wife and children have left for America — and why hooligans are beating Józef up. What has stoked everyone's ire at Józef is his reclamation of Jewish tombstones used as building material after World War II—in roads, farm structures, the local church. 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. But Pasikowski doesn't shy from making him look somewhat ridiculous and misguided. Still, 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.
Thomas FaroneAnthony Michael Hall, Chris Penn, Tony Danza, Elisabeth Rohm, Lily Rabe, Jamie Harrold, Frank Whaley, Leo BurmesterThomas FaroneFreestyle Releasing