(Reuters) — A year after Internet activist Aaron Swartz committed suicide, a new documentary brings to light the young computer prodigy’s earnest battle to bring online freedom of access to information for everyone.
“The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday and director Brian Knappenberger was joined by Swartz’s father Robert and two brothers, Noah and Ben, all of whom received a standing ovation.
“It’s unbelievably hard for us, but Aaron is dead, there’s nothing we can do about that,” Swartz’s father told the audience, saying he hoped the film would raise awareness of Aaron’s activism and encourage others to fight on his behalf.
Swartz died aged 26 in his Brooklyn, New York apartment on January 11, 2013, after facing felony charges brought by a federal grand jury that included theft, wire fraud and computer fraud.
The federal indictment said Swartz, a fellow at Harvard University, had downloaded millions of articles and journals from digital archive JSTOR through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology servers. Swartz, who pleaded not guilty to all counts, faced 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine if convicted.
In the film, which is a contender in Sundance’s U.S. documentary competition, Knappenberger focuses on Swartz’s intellect and growing political ambitions, with interviews that shed insight into his personality from Swartz’s family, friends and colleagues.
In “The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich,” shown recently at the New York Jewish Film Festival, Austrian writer and director Antonin Svoboda presents us with a sobering but odd theatrical feature about the controversial analyst and sex philosopher Wilhelm Reich.
Reich, a Jewish refugee from Nazism who came to the United States in 1939, had worked with Freud in the 1920s and was a respected professional with a Marxist bent and a progressive attitude toward such fraught issues as adolescent sexuality, birth control, abortion, and women’s economic independence.
Svoboda’s film concentrates on the latter years of Reich’s life in the United States, in the mid-1950s, when his increasingly iconoclastic methods and theories — especially his belief in an unscientifically defined “cosmic energy” which he called “orgone” and his promotion of “orgone boxes” in which his patients sat alone for presumed health benefits — led to investigations by journalists and agents of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Yet what the film presents, in the person of actor Klaus Maria Brandauer, who has aged into a stout bear of a man with wispy blond hair and jowls, is a man committed to eccentric theories he knows make him both target and taboo.
At the same time, holed up with a devoted second wife who works by his side in a remote wooded retreat, and with a staff of young lab enthusiasts and acolytes, we see a figure of considerable personal charm and warmth. Reich seeks to help a local farmer suffering drought conditions with an invention to harness the weather, at the same time intruding into the man’s life by helping his wife overcome misdiagnosed infertility. Reich tenderly ministers to own adolescent son who sees his father as a hero; he welcomes the return of the adult daughter from his first marriage whose accent and manners set her slightly apart. In the fullness of her father’s embrace, despite years of estrangement, she becomes a colleague and his closest supporter.
(JTA) — “Wish I Was Here,” Zach Braff’s Kickstarter-funded film, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival Saturday night. Fans eagerly awaiting the “Garden State” follow up—especially the 46,520 who helped pay for it to be made—will be glad to know it was warmly received. The screening ended with a standing ovation, certain critics had nice things to say, and most importantly, the movie was ultimately bought by Focus Features.
Also notable: It sounds pretty Jew-y. In “Wish I Was Here,” Braff makes his directorial debut and stars as Aiden Bloom, a struggling actor living in suburban LA with his wife (Kate Hudson) and their two kids. Aiden is forced to pull the children from Jewish day school after his dad, played Mandy Patinkin, announces he is suffering from cancer and will no longer be able to pay tuition. Unwilling to send them to the local public school, Aiden decides to home school. This new role leads Aiden on a spiritual journey, complete with a visit to a rabbi.
Braff, who wrote the script with his brother Adam, explains that the pair drew inspiration from their childhood. “It was kind of a combination of both of our lives,” he said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “We did have a very strong conservative/Orthodox upbringing … Themes are in there around our shared experiences but it’s mostly fiction.”
A tale of adult children discovering the romantic mysteries of their parents’ past hardly presents new thematic territory. These discoveries are made after death thanks to the documentary evidence a parent leaves behind: letters, photographs, school reports, and war-related transcripts. Don’t a son and daughter in a sleepy farming community discover their mother’s hot and heavy affair with a passing photographer in “Bridges of Madison County”?
But this snooping around into the past has the benefit of additional historical weight in the hands of Diane Kurys, whose “For a Woman,” a fictionalized family memoir screening January 19 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, traces her Ukrainian Jewish parents’ early marriage after the war as they establish themselves as new French citizens in the city of Lyon. The narrative conceit of the film has two daughters in 1980 rummaging through their recently deceased mother’s effects, the younger one — a stand-in for Kurys — taking on the task of resolving the enigma of their parents’ long-ago divorce.
Suddenly, it is 1947. Michel and Léna set up house in the apartment above the tailoring shop Michel establishes, when the sudden reappearance of Jean, the younger brother Michel has been separated from since the boy’s youth, sets in motion a personal drama with political dimensions.
Made as a film for the French-German television network, Arté, “The Jewish Cardinal,” screening January 20 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, nevertheless has the scope and sobriety of a feature film.
Without much of the bloat of the standard biopic, its focus is the period of French prelate Jean-Marie Aron Lustiger’s elevation through Church ranks, from being named Archbishop of Orléans in 1979, to his elevation as Archbishop of Paris in 1981 and Cardinal in 1983, all under the guidance of the new Polish Pope, Jean Paul II. But the screenplay, co-written by director Ilan Duran Cohen and Chantal Derudder, has more than career chronology on its mind.
Lustiger was born a French Jew of Polish immigrant stock, willingly converted to Christianity in the shelter of a Christian family during the war, and was quoted at the time of his elevation to Archbishop: “I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it.”
Duran Cohen and Derudder attempt the difficult task of presenting both the emotional toll his conversion had on his family — for this rely on several familial scenes and flashbacks — and the philosophical conundrum of maintaining a dual identity as Christian and Jew, relying here on several encounters with members of the Church hierarchy and the French Jewish community.
Diana Groó’s “poetic documentary” “Regina,” screening January 15 at the New York Jewish Film Festival, is constructed out of meager visual evidence. There is, after all, only one surviving photo of her subject, the Berlin-born Regina Jonas (1902-1944), who became the first ordained female rabbi. But if necessity is the mother of invention, then Groó’s method is to create a lyrical meditation on a life whose contours were barely known or remembered until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991. The subsequent reunification of Germany allowed a rush of researchers and scholars to fill in important historical lacunae from musty archives.
Although Groó’s documentary does not detail the manner of recovery of this extraordinary female figure in modern Jewish history, a 2004 article in Haaretz credits the archival work of Dr. Katharina von Kellenbach, “a researcher and lecturer in the department of philosophy and theology at … a small Christian college” who discovered in a “remote archive in East Berlin” an envelope containing a teaching certificate awarded to Jonas from the prestigious Berlin institute that “trained teachers of Judaic studies and Liberal rabbis.” Given to Jonas in 1930, it only certified that she could teach Judaic studies and Hebrew in the city’s Jewish community schools. Eventually, Von Kellenbach would also discover documents in the archive of the Theresienstadt ghetto that would enlarge and deepen the picture.
With merely the one formal portrait of Jonas in rabbinical robes, Groó nevertheless fashions a visual meditation on Jonas’s life and times. She uses old film footage panned over at hauntingly slow speeds. We see as in a dream the lively street life of the Berlin metropolis complemented by stills and clips of Berlin’s Jewish ghetto, its Jewish community schools and institutions, and Weimar-era nightlife.
The documentary “Ain’t Misbehavin’” — which received its American premiere January 8 at the New York Jewish Film Festival — is a significant change of pace for its director, Marcel Ophüls. Previously, Ophüls has given us magisterial inquiries into 20th century moral outrages, including his pre-eminent “The Sorrow and the Pity,” a disturbing exploration of French collaboration during the Nazi occupation, and “The Memory of Justice,” which examined the postwar world’s legal and ethical sense in the wake of the Nuremberg trials.
In “Ain’t Misbehavin’” — a terrible English title for what should have been a direct translation from the French, “A Traveler” — Ophüls is up to something decidedly more mischievous: He offers a self-portrait in late age, a memoir of youth, the tale of a family’s diaspora in the face of the Nazi menace, and a distinguished filmmaker’s tribute to his father, Max Ophüls, who himself had a legendary career in Germany, France and Hollywood, with films of dark romanticism including “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” “The Earrings of Madame de,” and “Lola Montès.”
Using still photographs, clips from his father’s films and his own, and interview footage shot in various world capitals and resorts, Ophüls fils presents himself as a travel guide of his family’s enforced peregrinations, a self-styled failed roué whose adored wife has separated from him, and a filmmaker whose nearly two-decade retirement this film ends.
A Holocaust documentary by Alfred Hitchcock will be screened in theatres and at festivals later this year, and on television in early 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Europe at the end of World War II.
It was not widely known that Hitchcock was enlisted in 1945 by his friend and patron Sidney Bernstein to assist with the making of a documentary on German atrocities. The Guardian reports that Hitchcock was so traumatized by the footage shot by British and Soviet film units at liberated concentration camps that he stayed away from Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire, where he filmed some of his films, for a week. “Hitchcock may have been the king of horror movies but he was utterly appalled by ‘the real thing.’”
The idea was to produce and show the film to the Germans to make them face and take responsibility for what they had done. However, production was delayed, and by late 1945, there was less interest. Apparently, “the Allied military government decided that rubbing the Germans’ noses in their own guilt wouldn’t help with postwar reconstruction.”
It’s easy to see why “Friends From France” (“Les interdits”), a film about the freighted history of Jewish “refuseniks” in the Soviet Union, was chosen to open this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival. In the story’s foreground are two young Parisian Jews, Carole and Jérôme, on a group tour in Brezhnev-era Odessa. They are smuggling in contraband such as books and sweets while posing for their fellow French tourists as a newly engaged couple who just happen to be taking an eccentric rather than romantic trip. In fact, they are cousins, and they are struggling with their attraction to each other. Traipsing around to see the sights by day, and under cover by night as “friends from France,” they have arranged meetings with Soviet Jews living in dire circumstances and desperate to leave the country, with Israel as their goal.
While the young couple’s passing through customs to enter the USSR provides a moment of early suspense, it is their meeting with Viktor, an aging physicist whose wife and son managed to emigrate 10 years earlier, which provides Jérôme with a greater moral quandary than whether or not to bed Carole. While Carole’s commitment to the cause of Soviet Jewry seems pure, if naïve, Jérôme’s seems reflexive, something he may be doing to prove his manhood to his beautiful cousin or to himself. With large framed glasses and a head of thick curls, he has the look of an Ashkenazi nerd, and his dour countenance, combined with an evident chip on his shoulder, hardly endears him to the audience. For Carole, Jérôme’s goofiness may be the charm. Yet something in his intelligent gaze makes Jérôme a person in whom Viktor invests his faith.
Jonah Hill has reached a new high. The 30-year-old comic actor is co-starring with Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” which opened December 25. On December 19, Hill spoke at “Reel Pieces,” the Annette Insdorf series at the 92Y. Hill comes across as a man with integrity, intensity, intelligence, and someone you just want to hug.
What led up to you landing the role of Donnie Azoff?
Jonah Hill: Leo DiCaprio was promoting a film in Mexico and by chance I was too. He was the producer of “The Wolf of Wall Street” so I thought “I want to meet with him before I meet Martin Scorsese.” We sat down for a meeting. When we met I said “I have to play this part, so I’m sorry if you have anyone else in mind. That’s just not going to happen.” [Grins]
Why were you so sure you should play this part?
I recognized that person in society. I had to be a part of illuminating what’s wrong with that kind of excess and valuing money over everything else.
When did you hear you got the part?
Thirty years ago, boxers Billy “the Kid” McDonnen and Henry “Razor” Sharp split two hard-fought light heavyweight contests. But for reasons soon revealed, there was never a rubber match, despite the personal animosity between the two.
Now, three decades years later, a young promoter has convinced them to participate in a “Grudge Match,” which will be released nationally December 25. Obviously, two overweight, over-the-hill fighters going at it offers delicious comic possibilities. Take two veteran — that is, geriatric — gladiators: Sylvester Stallone as McDonnen and Robert De Niro as Sharp, and the laughs increase exponentially.
The man in charge of the literal and figurative mayhem is Peter Segal, a successful veteran of comedies that starred everyone from the late Leslie Nielsen (“Naked Gun 33 ⅓”) to Adam Sandler (“The Longest Yard,” “Anger Management”) to Steve Carell (“Get Smart”).
Segal, 51, spoke to the Forward about why there are jokes in the trailer you won’t see in the movie, his first film, a super 8 version of “Lost in Space,” and his grandfather, the man in black.
Curt Schleier: There’s a show business saying: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” How did you wind up making the hard choice?
Most families have their share of rage, but the Westons in “August: Osage County,” opening December 25, make other dysfunctional families seem normal.
The film, adapted by Tracy Letts from his Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name, offers a close look at sibling relationships, and Meryl Streep, who plays the cruel matriarch Violet Weston, is a sure bet for an Oscar nomination. The cast also includes Chris Cooper, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Dermot Mulroney and Abigail Breslin, who plays Jean Fordham, Weston’s granddaughter.
We caught up with Breslin December 10, when she was at the 92Y to talk about the film as part of the Reel Pieces series with Annette Insdorf.
Did you ever see the play?
Abigail Breslin: No, when it was on Broadway in New York I was like 10, and my parents thought, “Oh no, this isn’t right for children.”
How was your audition?
I had a weird audition experience. I didn’t think I was going to get the part. When I auditioned I had a 103-degree fever and sounded like a dying cat. “This is not good,” I thought. But then a few months later I found out I got it.
Did you improvise at all?
“American Hustle,” David O. Russell’s inventive and energetic take on the Abscam scandal, starts with a tone-setting (and laugh-inducing) placard on the screen:
“Some of this actually happened.”
But, of course, a lot of it didn’t, and in that terrain between fact and fiction, Russell and co-screenwriter Eric Warren Singer have re-imagined the story as it might have been conceived by Jonathan Swift and John Waters.
Abscam was a late ‘70s, early ‘80s FBI corruption investigation that netted — some say, entrapped — more than a half dozen congressman and a passel of state and local officials.
It was led by a Long Island conman named Mel Weinberg, who’d been indicted for mail fraud and other charges related to a fake loan scheme he’d operated. An ambitious FBI agent hired him (!) to churn the waters for cons like his. He was even paid a bonus for every conviction he earned. Ultimately, this led to the congressmen.
I should note that the FBI hiring a conman and paying a piece rate bonus is not the bizarro film, but the bizarro reality.
Actor Eric Roberts is pretty busy but he likes it that way. Roberts just wrapped “Escaping the Holocaust,” Josh A. Weber’s film about his own family. Weber’s grandfather, Max Fronenberg, spent a year digging a tunnel to escape a prison camp and saved 15 people but couldn’t convince the woman he loved to come with him. The movie tells of their reunion 30 years later. Roberts agreed to an exclusive interview for the Arty Semite.
Dorri Olds: What can you tell me about “Escaping the Holocaust”?
Eric Roberts: I’m playing a Nazi. It’s a reenactment film. My friend Josh Weber wanted to do this movie and asked for my help. After I said yes he told me, “You’re playing the worst man in the movie,” and I am. The guy is a monster who shoots a little girl in the back.
What’s the story arc?
Josh’s grandfather escaped a concentration camp leaving behind the woman he’d fallen in love with. She was too scared to try to run. As years went by they both assumed the other was dead. Thirty years later, after his wife dies, Fronenberg reunites with the concentration camp woman.
Was it emotional to play a Nazi?
“The Last of the Unjust” is at once a documentary on the Holocaust, a character portrait, an inquiry into the nature of evil, a rumination on drawing moral distinctions, and a lesson on the pedagogical limits of film. This well over three-hour documentary, directed — or should we say “constructed”? — by Claude Lanzmann, whose nine-and-a-half-hour “Shoah” of 1985 set the bar impossibly high for anyone foolish enough to take on the same subject, is an adjunct to that earlier project. In “The Last of the Unjust,” Lanzmann takes a massive amount of interview footage with one Viennese rabbi, Benjamin Murmelstein, originally intended for “Shoah,” and uses it to home in on this particular Jew caught up in the ethical quagmire of the concentration camps.
In this case, the “camp” is the model village Theresienstadt, the former Czech garrison Terezin, “given to the Jews” by Hitler, but used for propaganda purposes such that the International Red Cross was taken in by the elaborate subterfuge. As a Nazi “public relations” film of the period shows, Theresienstadt was populated by happy, well fed children playing games, vigorous Jewish athletes engaged in a soccer match around a large inner courtyard for the pleasure of a packed “house,” and talented Jewish musicians performing symphonic music for the interned masses. Factory workers industriously produced goods for the self-sufficient village, and so purposeful and idealistic are the looks on all of these Jewish faces, one wonders if Leni Riefenstahl could have produced any more invigorating picture of Jews as their own master race. Indeed, in this piece of twisted propaganda, Theresienstadt is made to appear a homeland for which any Jew would seek to make aliyah.
But Lanzmann’s film does not provide a historical reconstruction of the town itself; instead, in a week’s worth of interviews conducted in 1975 with Murmelstein, the third Jewish elder to have administrated the town, and thus a man at the will and whim of the Nazis, Lanzmann forces us to measure the guilt or innocence of a Jewish “collaborator” — one of those Jewish elders whom Hannah Arendt fingered with contempt.
Israeli-born director Jonathan Gurfinkel’s first film is officially called “S#x Acts.” You can substitute an “I” for the asterisk, because the movie has six acts. Or you can put in an “E,” because there are numerous erotic scenes. But mostly it is an emotionally charged film about bullying that is both fascinating and depressing.
In “S#x Acts,” a young girl who has moved to a new school uses sex to win favor with the popular boys in her class, boys who, in turn, manipulate and abuse her.
Gurfinkel, 37, born and raised in Tel Aviv, spoke to the Forward about his film, out December 6 in New York and available on demand, about his famous father, and about the fact that there are no Hollywood endings in real life.
Curt Schleier: You were raised in the movie business, weren’t you?
Jonathan Gurfinkel: My father [David] is a very well known cinematographer, almost mythological in Israel. He shot a lot of films in the states for Canon [the defunct company owned by Israelis Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus], like “Rambo 3: Over the Top” with [Sylvester] Stallone and a lot of classic Israeli films. So I was kind of brought up on the set. The only film where I wasn’t on the set with him was one with John Cassavetes. He only finished about a quarter of it before Cassavetes fired him. Or he resigned. The facts aren’t certain. And I wasn’t there to see it.
So your career was bashert.
Nearly 50 years since his first student films, David Cronenberg is getting a pair of well-deserved tributes in his hometown of Toronto. For the Jewish-Canadian filmmaker, it’s been an unlikely ascent from genre outlaw to artistic heavyweight. And twinned exhibitions make the case that his intellectual and cultural significance extends far beyond his onscreen output.
The more elaborate of the two exhibitions, “Evolution,” provides a thrilling look at the Cronenberg’s work and process. The title of this dark, dazzling show — at the Bell Lightbox, home of the Toronto International Film Festival — fits perfectly. Cronenberg has evolved as a major figure in world cinema, from the brainy grad-school filmmaker in the late 1960s who explored pitch-black themes of paranoia and control to the mainstream-movie maker he’s become.
His work has evolved from the intellectual body horror of “Shivers” (1975) and “Rabid” (1976) to heady explorations of what it means to be human in “A Dangerous Method” (2011) and “Cosmopolis” (2011). And the world has evolved to catch up with his prescient mashups of humanity and technology in fleshy sci-fi like “Videodrome” (1983) and “eXistenZ” (1999).
With in-your-face video clips, eloquent wall texts, and props from his films — including the notorious gynaecological tools from “Dead Ringers” (1988) and an actual Mugwump from “Naked Lunch” (1991) — “Evolution” lays out an eloquent case for Cronenberg’s import as an artist and thinker.
It also manages to evoke the high-low thrills of his movies, which ground serious existential musings in razor-edged pulp. Seeing some of the effects and objects from films — like the gristle “guns” from “eXistenZ” — makes you realize all over again how radical some of Cronenberg’s visions have been.
Evan Rachel Wood stars with Shia LaBeouf in Fredrik Bond’s Tarrantino-esque thriller, “Charlie Countryman,” which opened November 15 in limited release. LaBeouf plays Charlie, whose dead mother appears and sends him to Bucharest. The griefstricken and unglued Charlie goes through a series of bizarre events leading him to Gabi (Wood), a mysterious Romanian he falls instantly in love with. The trouble is, as director Fredrik Bond put it, “Gabi is like playing with plutonium.” It is a dark and twisted, yet funny love story, in the brutal underworld of Bucharest.
As for her personal life, Wood, born to theatrical parents Ira David Wood and Sarah Lynn Moore, has been acting since she was 5 years old. On July 29, Wood and her husband, actor Jamie Bell, had their first child. The Arty Semite caught up with her on Wednesday in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.
Dorri Olds: Congratulations on being a mom. What do you like most about motherhood?
Evan Rachel Wood: Everything. It was my dream to be a mom so I’m loving it.
Is it hard getting back into the swing of work after having the baby?
Yeah, these last couple of days I’ve been having separation anxiety. I’m so used to having the baby right here [motions to her chest]. It’s strange. They become a part of you. I was lucky because I’d just done three films before I got pregnant so I was like, “I’m taking a break.”
What’s it like working with Shia LaBeouf?
Eytan Fox’s latest film, “Cupcakes,” (“Bananot” in Hebrew, meaning bananas) will receive its U.K. gala premiere when it closes the 17th UK Jewish Film Festival on November 17, in London. A feel-good musical comedy about love, life and friendship, the movie is a significant shift away from the award winning writer-director’s previous works such as “Yossi & Jagger,” “Walk on Water” and “Yossi.” Fox is known for addressing major themes such as the Holocaust, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and doomed love affairs — in particular gay relationships — but “Cupcakes” is markedly different. It oozes nostalgia for an Israel that had, according to Fox, a sense of community, when neighborhoods possessed an intimate character. It harks back to “the long gone days of innocence, the days you borrowed a cup of sugar from your neighbor and stayed for coffee,” says Keren, the film’s commentator. “Cupcakes” is wonderfully entertaining kitsch and is as deliciously saccharine as a film can get.
Set in Tel Aviv, the movie shows a group of neighbours who get together to watch Universong , a Eurovision-esque television song contest. The evening is an opportunity to get away from the stresses of their daily lives — Dana (Dana Ivgi) is a high-strung aide to a cabinet minister but at the same time tries to please her traditional father; Keren (Keren Berger), is a shy, awkward blogger with a lisp; Yael (Yael Bar-Zohar) is a former model who is unfulfilled by both her job as a corporate lawyer and her relationship with her boss; Efrat (Efrat Dor) is a singer-songwriter whose career is in a rut; Ofer (Ofer Shechter) is a nursery school teacher whose long term pin-up boyfriend is still in the closet and won’t come out publicly and Anat (Anat Waxman) runs a successful bakery but her marriage is falling apart. When the friends learn that Anat is upset because her husband has left her, they compose a song to cheer her up and “A Song for Anat” unexpectedly becomes Israel’s entry for the following year’s contest.
There is palpable onscreen chemistry between these six main characters and their obvious enjoyment makes for infectious viewing. All are stars from Israeli media and they play using their own names, as does Edouard Baer, the presenter of Universong. Actor Lior Ashkenazi also makes a guest appearance. But it is the expressive singing-dancing tutu-wearing Ofer Shechter who steals the show.
“Aftermath,” written and directed by Polish filmmaker Władysław Pasikowski, is everything you can ask of a movie and more. It is intelligent, thoughtful and involving, an experience that will generate conversations long after the last frame dissolves into nothingness.
It is also brave — brave of Pasikowski, brave of his actors, brave of his crew. “Aftermath” refers to what happened after World War II, when property and land stolen from Jewish families was not returned and where there was no proper accounting for the dead. It is brutal in its depiction of a nation where not much changed.
The movie takes place in 2001. Franek Kalina (Ireneusz Czop) returns to his small village in central Poland where he was raised, after living for two decades in the U.S. His return is prompted by the unexpected visit from Poland of his brother’s wife. She won’t say why she left him, so Franek goes home to find out.
He discovers that his brother, Józek (Maciej Stuhr), is shunned and vilified by the townspeople. No one, not Józek nor his neighbors, want to speak about it.
All a police officer tells Franek is that Józek was almost arrested for tearing up a road. Franek is perplexed. He visits the site, and all he sees is rocks. But he soon learns the truth.