Wladyslaw Pasikowski's Aftermath, playing as part of the NW Film Center's 22nd annual Portland Jewish Film Festival, tracks the tension between two brothers in rural Poland. After their father dies, elder brother Franek returns from America to reunite with the younger Jozef, whom villagers have deemed insane thanks to his collection of tombstones. Specifically, the tombstones of Jews murdered during the war, whose grave markers were repurposed as roadways. Compelled by a sense of morality, Jozef takes it upon himself to collect the stones and create a proper cemetery. But with each collected monument, he accidentally uncovers more secrets about his town's history—secrets that put him into violent conflict with his neighbors, who are filled with racist vitriol and go to horrible lengths to keep their legacies clean. (Some Polish cinemas have banned the film.) Aftermath is a horror story at heart—and a fact-inspired one—but the monsters are legacies of evil embedded in the very fabric of a community. As a mystery, it's heartbreaking. As a drama, it's stirring. And while its pace is a little sluggish, the rewards are worth the lulls.
Critic's Grade: B
SEE IT: Aftermath is at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave. 7 pm Monday, June 16. The Portland Jewish Film Festival runs June 15-29; see nwfilm.org for the full schedule.