(director/writer: Wladyslaw Pasikowski; screenwriter: Thomas Farone/based on the book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland by Jan Tomasz Gross; cinematographer: Pawel Edelman; editor: Jaroslaw Kaminski; music: Jan Duszynski; cast: Ireneusz Czop (Franciszek Kalina), Maciej Stuhr (Jósef Kalina), Jerzy Radziwilowicz (Rector), Zuzana Fialova (Justyna), Andrej Mastalerz (Priest Janusz Pawlak), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Wlodzimierz Nowak), Danuta Szaflarska (Herbalist); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Dariusz Jablonski/Violetta Kaminska/Izabela Wojcik; (Menemsha Films); 2012-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)
“The gripping thriller is meant as a shocker to provide a wake-up call to the world about the necessity of confronting past atrocities or the past ills will continue to linger unchecked.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer-director Wladyslaw Pasikowski(“Kroll”/”Pigs”/”Reich”) and co-writer Thomas Farone present a harrowing drama, not that much unlike a Polish version of the guilty town in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). It’s inspired by actual events as written by the Polish born Jew, Jan Tomasz Gross, in his book Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland (2001). It tells of two Polish brothers uncovering dark secrets from the past when the Nazis occupied their farm village and how the same bigotry and meanness still exists in modern times from the days of the Holocaust. The gripping thriller is meant as a shocker to provide a wake-up call to the world about the necessity of confronting past atrocities or the past ills will continue to linger unchecked.
The intense chain-smoker Franek (Ireneusz Czop) has lived in Chicago for the last 20 years, since 1980, and returns for a summer visit to his estranged younger brother Jósef (Maciej Stuhr), who lives alone on his family farm. His wife and kids abandoned him to move to Chicago without saying why, which is a reason for the brother’s visit. The tense visit is made more eerie by how the neighbors ostracize and hate Jósef, and his life is threatened when he begins to dig up and collect Jewish gravestones that the town wants to forever hide by covering them in asphalt for their new roads.
The antagonistic to each other brothers start investigating for real what happened to the 26 Jewish families in the village of Jedwabne at the time of the Nazi occupation and are startled to eventually learn that it was not the Nazis that killed the over 200 hundred family members but the Poles in their village, including their father, in the pogrom in 1941. They were repelled to find out they excused the savage killings as payback for the Jews killing Jesus and to take over their properties. This massacre was covered-up until the brothers dug out the truth, including how their family is also tainted by the horrific war crimes.
When these horrible facts were revealed in the Gross book and then in the film, sponsored by the state, that the Poles were as ruthless and bigoted as the Nazis, it stirred up a national controversy and a return to open anti-Semitism in the press despite the country’s lack of Jews. As an historical film, it’s a compelling watch even if it hits you over the head with an ax and is not particularly entertaining. Such hard-hitting expose films are rare and, in my opinion, need to be made more often.
REVIEWED ON 1/16/2015 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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