Katyn

2007, Movie, 121 mins

Review

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The story of Katyn is one that wouldn't die, despite the half-century efforts of the Soviet Union to bury the facts and suppress any questions or doubts about the official account. Andrzej Wajda has contributed mightily to the international profile of this lingering tragedy in the history of Poland -- in which much of an entire generation of the then-occupied nation's intellectuals and leaders were massacred -- with Katyn. One of his most personal projects, it intersects with his own family history -- his own father was one of the victims -- but it goes much further than a personal story. Its screenplay, which Wajda co-authored, weaves its story across a broader canvas of characters, whose stories, though somewhat confusing at moments, are all effectively interwoven into an amazingly coherent whole, much neater than some of the facts still buried about the actual massacre.

The cast, including Artur Zmijewski, Maja Ostaszewska, Jan Englert, Pawel Malaszynski, and Wiktoria Gasiewska, is note-perfect; and, incidentally, given that this is a war-related subject, Katyn may surprise audiences by being very much an actresses' picture, as so many of those left to sift the ruins and wreckage of families, and seek the truth, were women. Some of the character relationships and time jumps seem confusing at first, but the script does pull those seemingly disparate threads together. Strangely enough, one can see the potential beginnings of several other film stories within those disparate sections of Katyn, the script is so filled with intriguing characters and players -- several movies' worth, in fact. The re-enactment of the massacre and the events leading up to it are suitably brutal, and quite convincing in their detail, in the absence of better information.

Additionally, the music by Krzysztof Penderecki -- though totally uncommercial by Hollywood standards -- adds a subtle but powerful element of mood accompaniment to the proceedings, and ought to be heard on its own at some point. Pawel Edelman's cinematography successfully bridges the half-century gap in timeline, and, for much of the film (where violence and murder are not the subject at hand) probably -- and this is not a criticism -- makes the movie more pleasant to look at than its subject matter would lead one to expect. There are one or two moments when a bit of research of Western popular culture might have tightened up some loose moments in the script, but otherwise, Katyn is an unrelentingly powerful and seamless indictment of two brutal political systems and an outside world that, after the war, was too busy concerning itself about what to do with its former ally the Soviet Union to worry about a mass execution in a remote part of Eastern Europe. leave a comment --Bruce Eder

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