In the Country

T0 seems to have film festivals all year around. An incredible variety of films to see – all one needs is the time to slip out of the daily routine and pick something that looks interesting.

I force myself to go to a Monday night showing of “Aftermath”, a new Polish film loosely based on Jan Gross book called “Neighbors”. It’s a difficult story or a piece of history. A massacre during WWII of the Jewish population of a small town by their Polish neighbors, blamed for decades on the occupying Germans. “Aftermath” was received with a great deal of controversy in Poland and lukewarm critical reception elsewhere. Full house here, in a revue cinema.

“Aftermath” takes place in a small village, in the early 2000’s. The village seems to be suspended in time, not affected by progress, technological or other. The visitor from outside is someone who left over 20 years ago and is coming home to check up on his brother. He has been living in Chicago. Has American threads on, pristine white shirt, and look of an outsider.

The brother (Jozek) is taking care of the family farm. Very quickly his visiting brother catches on that Jozek is being ostracized, beaten up by local thugs, picked on for some transgression. The story unfolds partly as a mystery/suspense, in broad strokes. Jozek has been removing the pavement stones near the church; these were headstones from an old Jewish cemetery. He has been recreating the cemetery on his farm.

At first, his brother sees this as an inexplicable obsession, but somehow gets pulled into it and uncovers that the farmers are living on land formerly owned by Jewish people. The war was a catalyst for bringing out greed, prejudice – you can guess the fate of the Jewish population.

“Aftermath” is heavy-handed, not sure if that’s on purpose. It has the feel of an allegory or an old tale. It’s menacing, but because the characters are drawn as types, it sometimes loses its power. The acting is very good and there are some authentic touches: a cab drive when the Chicago visitor arrives; his attempts to maintain style in the primitive village – he washes by hand his white shirt every night. So not entirely successful, but it has something.

A few days later I see a 1992 documentary entitled “Birthplace” and it is everything that “Aftermath” could be. A Polish Jew, writer now living in the US (Henry Grynberg), returns to the small village he comes from, trying to find out how his father died. They were in hiding during the war in the forest near the village and his father went to the local farmers who he knew all his life to get milk and food. Eventually Grynberg and his mother fled and survived on Polish papers, but his father “looked too Jewish”, so he stayed behind.

It’s a road trip. Some of the older farmers remember Grynberg and his family. The texture of prejudice and humanity is real here; people are shown without embellishment. There is almost a catharsis in allowing them to talk about the suppressed parts of the past, the things they did to survive or simply out of greed or prejudice which was fueled by the Nazis.

And after the showing of “Birthplace”, during the Q and A, the great divide between North American Jews and Polish Jews. Venus and Mars.

I read Richard Brody’s put down of Pawlikowski’s “Ida” with concern. What detail was he looking for? I had no difficulty seeing the nuances of Anna and Wanda. Richard Brody, please talk to J. Hoberman about this. You’ve missed the mark this time.

Now for Neko Case. We had the nosebleed seats at Massey Hall. You feel like you’re hanging off the ceiling. The sound is good, so it doesn’t matter. Neko has this great voice, almost Patsy Cline-like. She cam shred on her guitar. Her band is tight. Her songs have both a retro and timeless feel and she is someone who doesn’t remind you of anyone else. I could have lost the banter from Kelly Hogan, but Hogan’s backup vocals were great.

“Nearly Midnight Honolulu” was heart breaking, the perfect antithesis to the manufactured sweetness of Mother’s Day.

P and my friend J were with me. Massey Hall was bathed in sound. A perfect little moment.

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