Sunday, February 1, 2015

Video/streaming debut: Władysław Pasikowski's AFTERMATH ups the stakes in the "Europe's-most-anti-Semitic-country" competition

Just when you think you've seen the worst of it, along comes another entry in that ever-popular competition to determine which European country proved the most anti-Semitic during World War II. Of course it all began with Germany and Austria, so they're clearly never off the hook (with Italy not far behind). But, my, how Hungary managed to help the Nazis out, as well (see one of the finest Holocaust films, Fateless). France, too, has a lot to answer for (as the release of both Sarah's Key and La Rafle recently showed us). But, ah, Poland: There is nothing quite like that little country. I don't have time to list all the movies that implicate Poland. Even films like Agnieszka Holland's fine In Darkness -- which showed Polish Jews being rescued, albeit grudgingly, by a Christian Pole -- also allowed us to learn how his fellow Poles treated this guy, post-rescue. One wonders if Britain and/or the U.S. would have acted differently, had they, too, been conquered by the Nazis? Doubtful.

One of the latest in this ever-popular competition is AFTERMATH (Poklosie), a film written and directed by Władysław Pasikowski (shown at left) that, when it made its debut in its home country, had both adherents and naysayers aplenty. I missed it upon its theatrical release, but now its distributor Menemsha Films has made it available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital streaming, so there is little reason for you to miss it. Aftermath, said to be based on actual events, is among the most grueling and shocking of the post-Holocaust-guilt-and-shame movies that yours truly has yet encountered. In it, one brother, who left his native Poland for America years ago (Ireneusz Czop, below), suddenly returns there to find his younger brother up to his ears in odd behavior, with even worse stuff coming from his fellow townspeople, all devout, church-going Christians, doncha know!

What lies at the bottom of all this? It take the entire movie to find out, but as it moves along, Aftermath slowly divulges its information piecemeal, keeping us in the kind of suspense and on the sort of tenterhooks that a good thriller might provide. From the outset we notice the kind of anti-Semitism we're used to seeing and hearing in both narrative and documentary film from and about Poland, so we are more or less "prepped" for some of what is to come. But not nearly all.

Learning the entire story is something else again. While the older brother has his own anti-Jewish tales to tell about his America experience, we still learn things mostly through his eyes, though it becomes the younger brother (Maciej Stuhr, shown above and at bottom) with whom we most identify, particularly when we understand what he is trying to do and the odds against his achieving this.

The townspeople we meet range from marginally helpful to downright nasty, except for a pleasant young woman and a priest (below, left) whose parish is about to be taken over by younger, sleazier blood (above, center, right). What we and that older brother finally discover comes at us in bits and pieces, one more awful than the next. By the finale, this family, the town, and I'm afraid by extension the country itself are held up before us as a collective of ugly, bigoted horror.

Clearly, the filmmaker is after an indictment -- which he gets. But as good as his movie often is, I wish it had refrained from the occasional bit of melodrama that goes over the top. Though in all fairness, I must add that where this subject and the actions of certain so-called human beings are concerned, it is difficult to imagine what "over the top" might include.

Meanwhile, Aftermath, is available now on DVD and Blu-ray and via various digital streaming outlets such as Netflix. Tighten your seat belt and give it a whirl.

No comments: