Aftermath (Chgo)

NOTE: On Saturday (1/4/13), Robert Rusiecki (Consulate General of Poland in Chicago), Father John Pawlikowski (a leading figure in the Christian-Jewish dialogue), and Professor Keely Stauter-Halsted (Chair of Polish Studies at University of Illinois at Chicago) will join audiences for an insightful Q&A after the 7:20 PM screening. Click HERE to purchase tickets.


The plane lands at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport. Carrying nothing more than a small zippered bag filled with American cigarettes, a man disembarks and heads to the train station. The taxi driver guesses he has just arrived on the 11 AM flight from Chicago, but the man is surly and in no mood to chat. The train takes him to a bus. Hours pass. It is already dark when he finally arrives in the rural Polish village where he was born.

“Franek” (Ireneusz Czop) has been living in the USA for twenty years, but when he walks into his family’s farmhouse, he says to his brother “Jozek” (Maciej Stuhr): “It looks exactly the same.”

This is the set-up of a remarkable feature film called Aftermath which is now rolling out across the USA after its initial release in New York and Los Angeles in October. Aftermath achieved broad success—and created considerable controversy—in Poland. It won the “Journalists Award” from the Gdynia [Poland] Film Festival in 2012, and three “Eagle” awards from the Polish Film Academy in 2013. It also won the “Yad Vashem Chairman’s Award” at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2013.

One brother left Poland in 1981 (the year General Jaruzelski imposed Martial Law in order to forestall a Soviet invasion); the other stayed to care for their aging parents and maintain his claim to their property. This intentionally metaphorical structure is essential to Aftermath’s powerful impact. Going versus staying; embracing the potential of a new path versus holding on to what one already knows; exposing the past versus embracing mythology; all of these polarities are explored in this tale of two brothers. The “truth” is very complicated. New opportunities turn out to be just as double-edged as all the old facts you thought you already knew, and the past has a tight grip that cannot be easily shaken.

Franek has come home for answers without having any idea of what the real questions are. And Jozek, who thinks he already knows the ground on which he stands, cannot avoid the inevitable when Franek digs deeper than he had thought to go.

Since this is a review for the JUF News, it will be no surprise to my readers that the central mystery is simply this: what happened to the Jews? Franek and Jozek grew up in a Poland that had no Jews. Everyone in the village knows the Jews were deported by the Germans, and the Polish people—who were also victims of Nazi tyranny—could do nothing to save them. Everyone knows that, right? Well, not quite.

Ireneusz Czop gives a riveting performance as Franek. After twenty years in Chicago, where he presumably saw dozens of films and hundreds of television shows, Franek knows “the hero” never stops until “his case” is solved. And so he is literally compelled to keep asking questions long after everyone—including Jozek—wants him to stop. The more people try to intimidate Franek, the more firm he becomes in his resolve. The screenplay by writer/director Władysław Pasikowski makes the implicit explicit: as difficult as the transition has been for him, Franek is an American now. He is a man used to exercising his rights and having a say.

Jozek, by contrast, has grown up without rights, and Maciej Stuhr brilliantly embodies a man feeling his way—half-stumbling—into the new world of post-Soviet Poland. Jozek’s sense of right and wrong is emotional, and his faith is religious. He never appeals to the authorities because he doesn’t trust them. Jozek does what he does without considering the consequences. Without Franek, Jozek would never probe. Dogged suffering is already second nature to him, and martyrdom is almost a relief.

Pasikowski has numerous film credits, and was also the director of two seasons of the TV series The Cop, which, according to my press kit, was “hailed by critics as the ‘best Polish crime series ever.’” The decision to use these tropes was a wise one. Presenting Franek’s obsessive quest to find “the answer” in this way makes his behavior broadly relatable to people all around the world who have also come to see this figure—be he a public servant or a private investigator—as the champion of an open society.

Paweł Edelman, the Director of Photography, does a superlative job, guiding the audience through scenes that are often low-lit and deliberatively murky. The Sound Design team (Jan Freda, Bartek Putkiewicz, and Jan Schermer) also does an excellent job of ratcheting up the tension in the ominous darkness.

Inevitably the Jews return at the end of the film. We are not actors in this drama, but what Franek learns is just as much our history as his, and Aftermath will affect Jews in Chicago just as much as Poles in Warsaw.

Aftermath opens on Friday January 3rd at the Music Box Theatre on Southport. Click HERE for complete schedule information.

NOTE: On Saturday (1/4/13), Robert Rusiecki (Consulate General of Poland in Chicago), Father John Pawlikowski (a leading figure in the Christian-Jewish dialogue), and Professor Keely Stauter-Halsted (Chair of Polish Studies at University of Illinois at Chicago) will join audiences for an insightful Q&A after the 7:20 PM screening. Click HERE to purchase tickets.


Top Photo: Franek (Ireneusz Czop) relentlessly seeks the truth.

Bottom Photo: Inevitably, Franek and Jozek (Maciej Stuhr) find answers.

Photo Credits: Menemsha Films

Posted on JUF Online on 1/6/14.

Tags: Aftermath, Ireneusz Czop, Maciej Stuhr, Władysław Pasikowski
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    • TziviahHuttner
    • January 6, 2014

    Hi, Jan.

    I had to write to you to let you know how much we thoroughly appreciated seeing the movie Aftermath. It was a snowy, blustery, cold night here on Saturday and we assumed there would be a small attendance. Well, the Music Box theater was packed. Every seat sold out.

    Before the movie began, the Vice-Consul of Poland spoke. It was clear to me (and I think everyone in the theater) that he was doing his best to smooth over the film’s depiction of the Polish people in the village where the story takes place. He said something to the effect that while there was a serious crime committed in a small village during the War, this movie’s version is fictitious.

    After the movie, the panel discussion among the young Professor Keely Stauter-Halsted and Father Pawlikowski, was very candid and most interesting. Neither referred to the film as being “fictitious.” There was some dialogue between an audience member and the panelists about the number of “righteous” Poles who helped save Jewish people.

    Thank you again for still being our film critic/reporter.

    Nothing but good things in 2014!!

      • TziviahHuttner
      • January 6, 2014

      To HN: Thanks so much for the update on the Q&A at the Music Box. Yes AFTERMATH is a feature film rather than a documentary, but the cases on which it is based are well-known. Some were saviors, some were perpetrators & some were bystanders. We’ve known that much for decades… AFTERMATH is about the search for truth & letting the truth win out. All best, Jan

    • TziviahHuttner
    • January 6, 2014


    Jan….thank you for your great review. We saw the movie, braving a snow storm, last night (not the 7:20 show). It was really, really so well done and, like the NY Times reviewer said, had elements of a horror film (spine tingling music, close camera work, shady scenes rushing through murky woods, etc).

    BUT…I read the NY Times review from October and I was furious! He told the whole story!! (which YOU did not). Why would he do that? He gave away the ending. So glad I didn’t read it first. I am NOT a film reivewer but that is the first time I have ever seen a reviewer tell the whole plot. What an idiot. I need your opinion (am I wrong??). Here is the link.


      • TziviahHuttner
      • January 6, 2014

      To SSS: I completely agree with you. Mr. Holden gave away too many plot details. Viewers should have the freedom to discover a story for themselves! Thanks for message, Jan

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