After spending 20 years in Chicago from his family in Poland, Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) travels back to his hometown village in Poland. His estranged brother, Józek (Maciej Stuhr), treats him with hostility as do the other villagers, with the exception of the local priest. The villagers have also been unfriendly to Józek and for a reason that sounds logical: he has been destroying public property by removing stones from a road and other locations around the village. These stones aren't just any stones, though: they're tombstones belonging to Jews who died there years ago during the Holocaust. The more that Franek and Józek investigate the mystery of the villagers' true anger, the more they uncover buried secrets and harsh truths.
Writer/director Wladyslaw Pasikowski has woven an intelligent dramatic thriller that feels Hitchockian at times. One could even go to the extent of calling this a horror film given the secrets that the two brothers uncover, none of which will be spoiled here. Wladyslaw Pasikowski wisely lets the mystery unravel gradually as he builds up tension upon Franek's arrival. Józek suffers a bloody nose after getting beaten up by some villagers, and, at night, someone breaks a window at his home. The local harvester doesn't arrive as scheduled and someone sets fire to his field while the fire department refuses to put out the fire. Clearly, someone wants to stop him from digging deeper into the mystery of the tombstones. With help from Franek, he remains persistent in his quest for the truth even the it threatens his life.
The secrets are quite dark and come with a few twists that go into even darker territory. What Aftermath could have used is some form of levity, i.e. comic relief. As it increasingly grim, it gets heavier and somewhat exhausting as well. However, it's never boring because there's always some new, interesting fact that rises to the surface to clear up the mystery. Fortunately, with the exception of one rather long expository speech toward the end, the screenplay feels organic and well-structured enough so that you'll never feel confused; Pasikowski avoids using flashbacks. With a less sensitive and intelligent screenplay, it would've been a convoluted, uneven mess, and you wouldn't be riveted or so emotionally invested in these characters' lives. At a running time of 1 hour and 47 minutes, Aftermath is one of the best mystery thrillers since Tell No One.
Why We Ride, directed by Bryan H. Carroll, is a family-friendly doc about motorcycling that seamlessly combines interviews and archival material with thrilling footage of motorcyclists doing what they love the most: riding their motorcycle. Each motorcyclist expresses how much motorcycling makes them feel great, connected to the world and free in their own way. Images speak louder than words, though, so it's no surprise that the footage of them riding their motorbikes so highlights their passion more effectively because it makes it palpable. The cinematography and editing is very crisp and slick in a very cinematic way. In other words, you might forget that you're watching a doc during those scenes. One particular motorcyclist still rides his motorcycle despite that he lost his leg; another one talks about how the sport helps him to emotionally cope with his traumas after serving in the army. Others discuss how motorcycling can be used as a parenting tool and a way to unite friends and family. Those testaments add much-needed gravitas to an otherwise very cheerful and sweet doc; if it were any more cheerful and sweet, you'd end up with a cavity. Could it have been darker and had more illuminating facts and figures? Yes, but then it wouldn't have been so accessible to the masses or for children/teens who because they would've found it too dry and heavy. Carroll even saves all of the names of the many subjects until the end credits where each of them states their name. Fortunately, Why We Ride manages to be an exhilarating, heartfelt and inspirational doc that will entertain all ages. It opens at AMC Empire 25 via Walking West Entertainment. One of the most profoundly moving docs of the year, These Birds Walk, opens at Village East Cinemas through Oscilloscope Laboratories. It centers around Edhi Foundation, a social welfare organization founded by Abdul Sattar Edhi in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. The organization serves many purposes including housing run-away and orphaned children. Instead of going the talking-heads route, co-directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq take an observational approach as you follow ambulance driver Asad Ghori and the young children, particularly 10-year-old Omar. Asad not only has to pick the orphans/runaways up from the streets, but also to transport them back to their families when possible. These are troubled, traumatized children---they cry, bully/hit each other and look dejected sometimes. At least the Edhi Foundation comes to the rescue to provide them with the building blocks of life albeit temporarily. It's a very essential humanitarian program and its founder deserves a lot of recognition for his work. This isn't a biopic of him, though----These Birds Walk is a warm, deeply affecting, non-preachy glimpse into the daily lives of Asad and Omar with stunningly beautiful, poetic cinematography. Occasionally, you even forget that you're watching a documentary. The fact that it's all over after a running time of merely 1 hour and 11 minutes is a testament to the filmmaker's restraint and discipline. Bravo!
Matthew Morgan (Michael Caine), a retired philosophy professor living in Paris, has yet to come to terms with the death of his wife (Jane Alexander). It's no help that he has a dysfunctional relationship with his son, Miles (Justin Kirk), and daughter Karen (Gillian Anderson). Once he meets and friends a young dance teacher, Pauline (Clémence Poésy), though, he has the chance to re-awaken innate happiness and tranquility. What precisely is the nature of their relationship and in what ways they help each other find happiness won't be spoiled here.
Writer/director Sandra Nettelbeck opts for a very gentle approach to tackling the issues of grief, platonic love, depression and regret through the unexpected bond between Matthew and Pauline. Basically, the film doesn't have much of a first act; it begins in the second act when Matthew has already lost his wife to cancer. The interactions between him and his wife are shown through brief flashbacks. Nettelbeck could have left that to your imagination, but very little here is left for your imagination or interpretation for that matter. The dialogue feels so expository that it often becomes stitled and makes you think it might be best served in a play, not in a film. A twist toward the end of the second act doesn't work because it doesn't come across as believable; it seems like it's there as a device to move the plot forward, but it comes off as clunky. Moreover, some of the scenes could have been trimmed down or omitted completely, especially the last scene that feels tacked-on and not as powerful or poignant as the prior scene.
On a positive note, the cinematography makes the most out of the genuine beauty and charms of Paris which becomes a character in itself. The true heart, soul and savior of the film, though, is Michael Caine. He's the kind of who can make any line of dialogue seem deep and believable no matter what. Conversely, whenever he's not onscreen, the film becomes less emotionally involving. Kudos to casting directors Nathalie Cheron and Pam Dixon for choosing him because his talents as an actor rise above the banal, clunky screenplay and help you to feel moved merely by his well-nuanced, genuinely heartfelt performance. He's clearly one of the greatest actors of our time, and, as usual, he never disappoints.
A Perfect Man