'Afterward': Film Review | DOC NYC 2018

Courtesy of DOC NYC/Afterward Productions
Painful but essential.

Ofra Bloch's documentary deals with the lingering trauma suffered by Israelis, Palestinians and Germans as a result of such events as the Holocaust and the Nakba.

"Is it possible to forgive?"

That question, asked in Ofra Bloch's documentary, feels particularly relevant in these politically charged times seemingly marked more than ever by hatred and resentments. In this cinematic debut, the Jerusalem-born therapist, described as a "trauma expert," delves into the feelings of Germans, Israelis and Palestinians bearing under the weight of psychic wounds both first-hand and generational. Afterward, which recently received its world premiere at DOC NYC, is very much a film of its time, but its relevance will sadly probably never lessen.

The doc deals with the continuing trauma engendered by the Holocaust and the Nakba, the latter term referring to the displacement of hundred of thousands of Palestinians who became forced refugees in 1948. The Nazi legacy is still deeply felt in Germany, where Bloch interviews a former neo-Nazi who can't quite believe he's talking amiably to a Jew and the children of SS officers grappling with the horrors of their fathers' pasts. She also attends an exhibit at Berlin's Jewish Museum that lives up to its provocative title "Jew in a Box." Bloch became introduced to memories of the Holocaust at an early age, having grown up in a Jerusalem home located directly across from the building where Adolf Eichmann was tried for war crimes.

The legacy of the Holocaust is also felt by Palestinians, many of whom resent Israelis for labeling themselves victims even while oppressing them. "The more Israelis breathe, the more we choke," says one interview subject about the occupation of their land. Another woman describes how she refuses to stand when a siren blares each year to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. "It's just a minute," she says of the annual ritual. "But it's a long minute." She goes on to explain that not standing up represents "a political statement on my part." The documentary includes harrowing footage of an Israeli soldier cold-bloodedly shooting a wounded Palestinian terrorist in the head as he lays wounded on the ground.

Bloch also interviews a Palestinian professor who took his students on a field trip to Auschwitz to educate them about the horrors of the Holocaust. He was later accused of being a traitor and removed from his position.

The film's wide-ranging interview subjects include historians, therapists and activists who articulately describe how past and current events shape their personal lives and careers. Bloch injects herself frequently into the proceedings, exploring her own complicated feelings of victimization and resentment. The film thus becomes a personal journey that proves as therapeutic for the filmmaker as it occasionally seems for her subjects.

Not every segment in Afterward is compelling. The doc goes off on some odd tangents and feels padded at times despite its relatively brief running time. But at its most powerful, the film movingly illustrates the myriad ways in which the past haunts the present and the healing power of communication.

Production companies: All Rites Reserved, Afterward Productions
Director-screenwriter: Ofra Bloch
Producers: Jack Riccobono
Executive producers: Abigail E. Disney, Adam Schlesinger
Director of photography: Alex Stikich
Editor: Michael J. Palmer
Composer: Lucas Lechowski
Venue: DOC NYC

94 minutes