LONDON — A Polish film that probes the controversial subject of Poles who murdered Jewish neighbors during the wartime Nazi occupation has provoked reactions from the right-wing press verging on anti-Semitic.
“Poklosie” (Aftermath), directed by Wladyslaw Pasikowski, stars top Polish actor Maciej Stuhr as a man who returns to his village after the death of his father to find that his brother (Ireneusz Czop) has been digging up Jewish gravestones — used since the war as paving for a road, and re-erecting them in a field.
The brother has stumbled upon the village’s dirty secret — that the Jewish inhabitants were murdered in order to steal their land.
Told as a fast-paced thriller, the controversial story — which is based on true events — made it difficult for producer Dariusz Jablonski of Apple Film in Warsaw to raise money.
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Jablonski was rejected by the Polish Film Institute when he first approached it for funding in 2006, but two years ago they agreed to pay around 38% of the film’s $2.6 million budget. Co-producers from the Netherlands, Russia and Slovakia, and European fund Eurimages came in with the rest.
The film, which had its Polish premiere last May during the Gdynia Film Festival, has notched up $1.6 million at the box office since its release Nov. 9 on 130 prints.
But its uncompromising approach to a part of Polish history many would prefer to forget has stirred emotions.
Two right-wing weekly magazines ran front-page photos of Stuhr, who is the son of another famous actor, Jerzy Stuhr, superimposed with images and slogans branding him a Jew, although he is Christian.
Another ran a cartoon of a group of people pushing the Polish symbol, a white eagle, off a cliff under the headline: “This is how Polish memory is destroyed.”
Jablonski is sanguine about the reaction.
“This is the first time this story has been told in film,” he told Variety, adding that in 1941 in around 30 villages in Eastern Poland, an area that had been under Soviet occupation before the Nazis invaded, Poles murdered their Jewish neighbors.
“It is a difficult and complex subject, and one that runs against the Polish image of the country as being both a heroic fighter against Nazism and a victim, which is also true.”
London sales agent High Point is repping the film internationally.