Polish Cinema: Katyn (Andrzej Wajda, 2007, Poland)

Katyn is perhaps the most recognized of the late period films of legendary Polish director Andrzej Wajda. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 80th Academy Awards and had a positive critical reception. The film uses a multigenerational narrative to tell the story of the Katyn massacre. Buried by the Soviets, the massacre was intended to decapitate the Polish national army and involved the execution of 22,000 Polish officers in 1940. The wives and children of the officers were forcibly resettled to Northern Kazakhstan. 

The film opens with the fall of Warsaw and the division of Poland between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in 1939. The first part of the film centers on Andrzej, a young captain who is taken prisoner. His wife Anna and daughter Nika manage to escape deportation via a friendly Russian prison guard. While Andrzej and his colleague Jerzy await their fate in the camps, we also witness the deportation of Polish professors in Poland to concentration camps (including Andrzej's father). Wajda shows how Poland was impacted by both the East and West in this film.

The film loses some of its footings in the postwar period, where it goes into the Soviet coverup of Katyn and some investigators attempt to bring in Anna to help prove the date and establish that it was not the Nazis but the Soviets who had committed the atrocity. Wajda's sprawling narrative culminates with a brutal recreation of the atrocity itself, set to the music of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Wajda's film does a remarkable job of showing Polish women as the keepers of Polish history and making them central to his story. As with all of Wajda's films, it shows the impact of history and how various people react to their historical circumstances and tries to adapt. While not his best film, Katyn is well-worth watching.



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