You could think of “Aftermath” as a Polish version of “12 Years a Slave”: a film that exhumes a shameful chapter in its nation’s history which some people would just as soon leave buried, rather than confront.
Instead of slavery, however, “Aftermath” deals with Polish anti-semitism, as it was manifested during World War II. Specifically, filmmaker Wladyslaw Pasikowski focuses on the spate of mass murders of Jews carried out in small Polish towns by the residents of those towns, with no instruction or even sanction by the Nazis, as revealed in, among other books, Jan Gross’ 2002 “Neighbors,” about the small village of Jedwabne, Poland.
Pasikowski’s way into the story is oblique, which is what gives “Aftermath” its power. His focus is on Franciszek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop), back in Poland for the first time in 20-plus years. He left in the early 1980s to try make it in America, away from the strictures of communism. But he returns to find out what’s going on with his younger brother, Josef (Maciej Stuhr), whose wife and children have left him behind in Poland and moved in with his brother in Chicago.
The Kalinas’ rural village is still somewhat backward, despite it being the start of the 21st century. There are horse-drawn carts, tractors on the roads and nary a computer in sight. Even the old family homestead lacks such niceties as running water.
His brother is in hunker-down mode but it takes Franciszek some time to understand why. At first, all he knows is that his brother is the target of anger from the entire village. Not until he does some prying does he find that Josef’s pulling at a thread – and some villagers fear that it will unravel the fabric of the entire town.
The first clues are the headstones from the local Jewish cemetery, pulled up by the Nazis and used to pave the local roads during the war. Josef has discovered them – and has been pulling them up from the roads, rescuing them from various farms where they’re also used as pavers and steps.
This review continues on my website.