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Vito After (2005)

Review

For New York City police detective Vito Friscia, the months after 9/11 have been very difficult indeed. Haunted by the memories of that fateful day, the duty he and his fellow officers had to endure, and the lingering physical and psychological effects of same, he remains resilient… or at least, he tries. It’s not easy, especially with so many in the fraternity suffering a similar fate — or worse. Still, he needs to remain focused, for his family, for the girl’s soccer team he coaches, for his own peace of mind. But as with any life-altering incident, it’s not always easy.

At the insistence of his concerned sister-in-law, Maria Pusateri, Friscia agrees to sit down before the camera. Thus begins Vito After, an intriguing and powerful documentary that uses one man’s story to personalize the devastating aftermath from the deadliest terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. As part of the investigation into what happened that fateful day, Ground Zero (and eventually, a nearby landfill) are designated crime scenes, detectives needed to sift through the rubble for anything that can help bring closure to the case. This includes victims’ identification, mementos, even body parts. In total, the police spent weeks working the location, desperate to help authorities and the victim’s families gain closure.

Engulfed in a near constant cloud of powdered concrete and various other toxins, many in Friscia’s force have developed what they now jokingly refer to as ‘WTC cough,’ and much of Vito After centers on our subject’s stubbornness when it comes to seeing a doctor. With a constant drip in his sinuses and other lung concerns, we see him argue with his wife and the director herself over the proper course of treatment. He finally agrees to be examined on the condition that his better half stops smoking. A dinner table discussion of the subject between Friscia and his family (including a young daughter and son) is a moment of levity in an otherwise somber affair.

Vito After manages to get a lot of information across in a mere 49 minutes. We hear from other officers who worked with Friscia, their gallows humor approach covering a wealth of concerns. There are also a few talking head ‘experts’ thrown in to emphasize the dangers involved. While never dry, they do tend to take away from what is an otherwise engaging portrait. It is said that a documentary is only as good as its subject, and in Friscia, Pusateri finds an intriguing hook. He’s definitely a member of the Men in Blue brotherhood, caught up in the honor and duty such a position implies. But he’s also a young man, made up of the doubt and fears that come with witnessing a horrific event.

Since filming started in 2002 (lasting through 2004), we get a nice overview of time and its healing properties. Friscia enjoys telling the camera how focused and ‘fine’ he is, but there are moments when the façade falls and we can see how complicated his feelings really are. There have been a few suspicious deaths since the investigation, young men dying suddenly from heart and other previously non-existent pulmonary conditions, and even with his brave demeanor, every trip to the doctor reads like a possible death sentence to Friscia. His discomfort is understandable, and obvious.

While we are living with the political toll every day, the personal side of 9/11 seems mostly forgotten. A fine film like Vito After should remind us that, even if the world realigns itself toward a more peaceful path, that horrific fall event will remain with many of us forever — whether we like it or not.

Aka Vito After: A 9/11 Responder Copes in the Aftermath.