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BERLINALE 2008 Out of competition / Poland

Katyn explores painful chapter in Polish history


Katyn explores painful chapter in Polish history

In Berlin today, and in the presence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, master Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda (see interview) presented his impressive feature Katyn [+see also:
film review
interview: Andrzej Wajda
interview: Michal Kwiecinski
film profile

The film – which inevitably screened out of competition – centres on the massacre of 22,000 Polish officers and members of the intelligentsia by the Soviets in the spring of 1940.

As Wajda reminded people during the press conference, the facts – which were unclear at the time due to the effects of the German and Soviet propaganda, as the two countries tried to blame each other for the massacre – are now indisputable and are well documented.

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The film is not political, but instead focuses on the individuals involved, those who were found in the mass graves in the forest of Katyn (represented here by three officers in particular) and their families, for these events have personal significance for the director. His father died at Katyn, and every day he and his mother would read the lists of victims, hoping not to see the father’s name. Wajda also witnessed the Polish flags be replaced by the red banners.

The filmmaker wanted to pay homage not only to the men (their loyalty to a country still excluded from Europe, their courage in “enduring” the situation without ever entirely surrendering, the trust they felt towards the Soviet troops, a trust that proved fatal...) but also to the women. He depicts their uncompromising dignity – through a wife who refuses to remarry with a Russian to save her own skin and a sister who would rather go to prison than leave her brother’s grave without a tombstone – and above all the interminable wait they suffered.

Just like Wajda’s mother and the women in the film, as viewers we feel a jolt of expectation every time somebody knocks on the door. Moreover, we hope – right until the end, even when it is clear that all is lost – that the officers who disappeared are not found in those mass graves.

This waiting is even more harrowing as it is fuelled by the deceitful propaganda and the uncertainty, in 1945, over how to react to the Soviet liberator-occupier. In response to this, Wajda – in a shocking final scene – shows us the unspeakable: the execution of each officer, one by one, and the piles of bodies covered with dirt.

Moreover, this desire to approach the subject head-on runs through the entire film. For while it is impossible to reconstruct the complexity of this whole chapter in Polish history, Wajda believes that you can instead create images that people will remember. And that, judging by the success his film has enjoyed in his country, Polish people were waiting to see these events with their own eyes before they could move on.

The eminent director says that now that he has made a film about a national and personal tragedy he wants his next title to be a modern work about a society in the throes of significant change.

Katyn was produced by Akson Studio and Film Polski - Polski Instytut Sztuki Filmowej (PISF – Polish Film Institute). International sales for this film – a nominee for the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – are being handled by Telewizja Polska SA. The film has already been bought for around 30 territories and negotiations are currently underway with other countries.

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(Translated from French)

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