“Katyn” is a Polish movie about the infamous Katyn massacre of WWII. It was based on the book Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn by Andrzej Mularczyk. It was directed by acclaimed Polish director Andrzej Wajda (“Kanal”) who was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Oscar by the Academy Awards in 2000. Wajda, whose father was a victim of the massacre, was 83 when the film was made. The film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. The production was encouraged by Polish President Lech Kaczynski for political purposes.
The movie opens in the aftermath of the German/Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939. Refugees are caught between the two invading armies. Anna (Maja Ostaszewska) and her daughter are searching for her husband. She finds Andrzej (Arthur Zmjewski) in a prisoner of war encampment. He could easily escape, but is honor bound to stay with the others. He and the other officers are sent eastward by train. Andrzej keeps a diary that will later be crucial in determining the Soviets were to blame for the massacre. It is not just the Polish officer corps that is purged. Andrzej’s father is a college professor who is part of the round-up of the intelligentsia and sent to a work camp.
Both the Germans and the Soviets use propaganda to blame the other for the massacre. Poles are pressured to go along with the communist version. Poles in the know, like Andrzej’s friend Jerzy, are faced with accepting the lie or trying to get along with the Soviets. Anna is one who is trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. She eventually receives her husband’s diary which becomes crucial evidence as its last entry is in 1940 and the execution site was in Soviet territory at that time. Queue flashback to the executions.
“Katyn” is a great history lesson. Most Americans are uninformed about the Katyn massacre. And Americans from the Greatest Generation were misinformed about the event. For the good of the alliance, Roosevelt and Churchill basically swallowed Stalin’s version of what happened to avoid rocking the boat. It was not until 1990 that Gorbachev admitted to the lie. The truth is that after the Soviets conquered eastern Poland, the NKVD under Beria (with the approval of Stalin) liquidated Polish officers, police officers, and members of the intelligentsia like college professors. Basically, the Soviet government attempted to eliminate people who might lead resistance to communist rule after the war. The executions took place in 1940 in the Katyn Forest and prisons at Kalinin and Kharkiv in Russsia. About 22,000 men were murdered. Although the movie is fictional, there was a diary kept by a Maj. Solski. The movie accurately depicts the dilemma the Polish people were put in. The movie is sympathetic towards the Poles who chose to cooperate. However, the heroes are the ones who tried to resist.
I have to admit that until the flashback kicked in I was wondering what the big deal was. The sequence on the executions is mesmerizing and gut-wrenching. The killings are chilling (and accurately depicted). It caused me to reassess the entire film. It is well acted and is noteworthy for its strong female characters. The movie concentrates on the effects of the massacre on several Polish women. It interweaves the characters well. Andrzej is actually a framing device as his tale opens and closes the film. And cements the theme that the Soviets were bastards. This is one of the few movies where the Nazis are the lesser of two evils. The movie was obviously directed by a master. The cinematography is excellent, especially in the executions scene. The movie is unpredictable and thought-provoking.
“Katyn” is a must see because who’s going to read some book by a Polish dude? Yet, we should all be aware of one of the greatest atrocities in history. Plus you’ll learn that communism is bad.