Last year, a film was released in Poland that was so controversial it was banned in some towns. Opening in New York on Friday and Los Angeles later this month, Pokłosie—or, Aftermath—is a thriller that tells the story of a rural farmer on a mission. At night, Józek Kalina digs up Jewish grave markers that were looted from a local cemetery and used by fellow villagers in their roads and gardens. Józek is trying to give the village’s Jewish dead a proper burial, but there’s a high cost to his activity. His wife has left him and taken the children, and his neighbors are reacting with growing menace.
The film is brutal and haunting, invoking the horrors of the Holocaust and bringing up unsettling questions about the relationship between Jews and Poles during World War II and about Poles’ willingness to grapple with the darker side of that history. These questions are so uncomfortable, in fact, that the Polish actor playing Józek received death threats for his performance.
Aftermath took more than seven years to get made—funders were leery of stirring up discomfiting history. But made it got, thanks to the persistence and vision of director Władysław Pasikowski and producer Dariusz Jabłoński. Jabłoński (who has worked on acclaimed films including Decalogue and Photographer), joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to talk about the challenges of seeing the project through (they include the logistics of growing, and then destroying, a wheat field), and about what was most encouraging, and discouraging, about the public reaction to the film.