Drama - Completed 2012

A peaceful village embodying the idyllic beauty of the Polish countryside harbors a dark secret: the collective murder by the inhabitants of their neighbours during World War II.

    • Year of production
    • 2012
    • Genres
    • Drama
    • Countries
    • Languages
    • POLISH
    • Duration
    • 107 mn
    • Director(s)
    • Wladyslaw PASIKOWSKI
    • Writer(s)
    • Wladyslaw PASIKOWSKI
    • Producer(s)
    • Artem VASILIEV (Metra Films), Dariusz JABLONSKI (Apple Film Production), Frans VAN GESTEL (Topkapi Films), Arnold HESLENFELD (Topkapi Films), Izabela WOJCIK (Apple Film Production), Violetta KAMINSKA (Apple Film Production)
    • Synopsis
    • Franek and Józek Kalina are brothers, both born at the end of the 1950s. Their father was a poor farmer in the northeastern reaches of central Poland. In the early 1980s Franek, feeling poverty and conscription, emigrates to the United States. His family disapprove of his decision and they are part on bad terms. Years later, Franek is still so sore that he refuses to come to his parents' funerals. This further fuels the animosity between the brothers, and they break off all ties with each other.
      In 2005, Józek's wife shows up in the States with her kids. She doesn't want to tell Franek what made her leave her husband.
      Franek decides to go back to his native village and learn more about his brother's present circumstances. He is given a cool welcome. Old grudges resurface: Franek is accused of abandoning the farm when it needed him and of not attending his parents' funerals. Józek will not say why his wife and children left him. Within a matter of days Franek realizes that Józek is disliked in the village, especially by the young priest and the old police chief. The enmity is evident everywhere: their windows are broken, they receive anonymous threats, are harassed by the authorities, and meet with other forms of malice.
      Franek tries to find out why but the villagers are just as unwilling to speak to a "stranger" as Józek is. Only when Józek is attacked and beaten senseless by workers from a nearby sawmill does he reveal the reasons behind the conflict.
      The previous year, when a flood swept away the main road, forcing people to start using the old one again, Józek discovered that the old road had been reinforced with gravestones from the local Jewish cemetery, destroyed by the Germans during the war. Józek could not live with the knowledge, so he tore up the road and moved the gravestones to his field, where he propped them up to form a cemetery of sorts. Learning that the remaining gravestones were being kept on people's farms, Józek spent all his savings to buy them up. His wife left and the village turned against him after he started complaining that the church bell tower was buttressed by a wall made of Jewish gravestones.
      To save his brother from being lynched by the villagers, Franek makes a deal with the Vicar and the brothers remove the gravestones from the church grounds at night. Their deed comes to light, however, and their neighbors grow more hostile still. Franek tries to determine the cause of their hostility. With the help of Justyna, a nurse at the local clinic, he interviews the oldest living villagers, and studies the dusty municipal records.
      He soon finds out that local peasants had not only used Jewish gravestones as building material but, worse still, had – with the tacit approval of the Germans - taken over farms and houses belonging to the Jews after their deportation. Even their father had moved in to a Jewish-owned farm, getting twelve acres of fertile land for seven acres of wastes.
      The brothers uncover the ruins of their father's previous house in what is now a bird sanctuary. During an interview with Justyna's grandfather Franek is given a mysterious hint, or maybe a warning, namely that the real secrets always lie hidden under one's own roof and not one's neighbor's.
      Acting on this seemingly irrational advice, Franek and Józek return to the bird sanctuary and dig up the foundations of their father's old cottage. After removing the topsoil they find a mass grave containing over one hundred skeletons of men, women and children. They meet the last eyewitness: the Madwoman of the village, who lives far off in the woods. She tells them that the bodies belong to the Jews of the village who, in 1940, were herded into the Kalina's cottage and burned alive.
      When Józek starts cursing the Germans, the Madwoman informs him that no Germans were directly involved. The Polish inhabitants of the village had staged a pogrom at the instigation of two SS officers. The Madwoman recalls that the ringleader was the then Village Headman, who is still alive. To corroborate the Madwoman's extraordinary allegations, the brothers go see the Headman, who is now past ninety.
      At the brothers' insistence the Headman admits to having committed the atrocity sixty five years earlier, but, as a fierce anti-Semite, he is unrepentant. The Headman names his closest accomplice: it was Józek and Franek's father. Józek wants to kill the Headman for slandering his father's memory, but both brothers realize that he is telling the truth. Franek stops Józek from taking justice into his own hands.
      After a sleepless night of soul-searching, Józek decides to fill in the grave and conceal the crime so that it might forever remain the village's dark secret.
      Franek disagrees but Józek accuses him of having been a bad son while their father was alive and of wanting to bring the ultimate disgrace upon him now that he is dead. The brothers fight. Józek gets the upper hand but is unable to deliver the final blow with his axe. He curses his brother and casts him out of the house. Franek is getting ready to go back to the States when Justyna summons him to the village. Back in the village, he has to identify the body of Józek. Franek buries his brother not in the Catholic cemetery but in the one Józek had built out of Jewish gravestones.