Katyn

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Director: Andrzej Wajda; Release date: 19 June

Poland's leading post-war director, Andrzej Wajda, now 83, has made a stunning film about a defining moment in modern Polish society - the massacre of Polish army officers in the Katyn forest in the early years of the Second World War.

The film opens with grey, foggy clouds that clear to reveal a mass of refugees fleeing across a bridge to avoid the advancing German army, only to be met by a handful of refugees moving in the opposite direction to escape the Russian troops, news of whose invasion has only just become known. Anna, on a bicycle with her daughter, is heading east in search of Andrzey, her officer husband, who, along with the bulk of the officer corps, is about to be deported. Heading in the opposite direction, in a car with her servant, is the general's wife. They stop briefly and talk before resuming their journeys.

It is a telling image. It captures not just the confusion of war, but it touches on themes that will shape the film - on courage and determination - and in an understated manner on social distinctions within a shared national fate. Anna and many other characters we come to meet find themselves confronted with painful choices.

These are not just personal choices - how to cope with loss and the constant hope that loved ones will return and shattered families be reunited. There are the larger choices that the Katyn massacre forces on them, of whether to refuse, to resist or to accommodate to the post-war Polish society created by the Soviet victors.

For at the heart of the legitimacy of the new regime is a lie about the date of the massacre. The Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 led to the unearthing of the mass graves of thousands of Polish officers murdered secretly on Stalin's orders.

The Nazis were handed a propaganda coup. They used the truth to peddle a lie about protecting Poles against Bolshevik bestiality - which Wajda uses to great effect in a scene involving threats to the general's wife.

At the end of the war, with the Nazis expelled from Poland, the Russians and the puppet People's Army sought to write their guilt out of history by "proving" that the officers had been murdered not in 1940 but in 1941 - by the Nazis. The official history is at odds with what everyone knows but dares not say.

Except, that is, for the few who dare to speak out. Challenging the date is an act of resistance - but Wajda is at pains to avoid simple judgements.

Is it better to stick to principles, even if they appear as self-destructive as the values of pre-war society? Or is it better to work through compromise to bring about improvement, because freedom appears to lie forever buried?

The final section of the film is about asserting identity in the face of official denial and religious cowardice. Agnieska, the sister of another murdered officer, is driven, like Antigone in ancient Greek drama, to honour the reality of her brother's death. Accused of a morbid attachment to the dead by her sister, who has decided to work within the new system, Agnieska replies that she chooses the murdered against the murderers.

Wajda has directed an intensely moving film - as good as, if not better than, the films about wartime Polish resistance that made his reputation in the 1950s. No doubt, this is in part because his own father was one of the murdered officers - but more crucially, perhaps, because he also lived through the period of Stalinist reconstruction of Poland, a period that imposed on him its own complex demands of how to survive without sacrificing the truth. Thus there is no caricature, no simplification. The film possesses an objectivity that does not sacrifice commitment to onesidedness.

It is beautifully filmed, with an astonishing use of muted browns and greens to convey the atmosphere and extraordinary performances from the actors. The music by Penderecki, one of Poland's leading composers, matches the mood perfectly. And the film's climax is extraordinarily gripping, not least because it suggests that the truth cannot be buried forever.