World War II stories seem to never end, but "Katyn" is a new and extremely important part of world history. Directed by Oscar winning director Andrzeg Wajda, this two-hour masterpiece is a witness to courage and tragedy at their extremes.
In 1939, Poland occupants are surrounded by the Germans to the west and the Russians to the east. This is an inescapable situation for the Poles. There are several families situations that are weaved throughout this film with wife's and daughters searching for their Polish officer husbands, brothers, relatives and friends. This sets the tone of the film, and personalizes it. First a wife and daughter find their Polish officer husband as they flee the Germans, only to see him disappear. A University is visited and the professors are asked to meet with the Russians; a fatal mistake but unavoidable. Officers and intellectuals are held at various camps, waiting to be executed.
In 1940, the Russians murder most of the Polish officers, while letters, rumors and messages are spread from camps to families and back. It is painful to watch. The Germans exploit Russia's murderous rampage to gain allies. Meanwhile, Polish residents are forced to sign allegiance to Russia, but there is a resistance, which is eventually fatal for most. Director Andrzej Wajda weaves real footage of the discovery of mass graves to the Polish people (actors) in town squares. (The films are authentic and Wajda splices them perfectly from black and white into the color film). These films are the most horrific one will see, even in documentaries. Polish officers are shown being systematically executed in the most egregious style. This is interweaved with families contemplating what happened or actually finding out the demise of their husbands and sons. It is heartbreaking.
The ending with the actually reenactment of the Polish armies being executed in mass graves while bulldozers bury the evidence is startling and upsetting. The final scene with a hand holding a rosary is devastating. The film is one of the most factual (although the family dynamics are fictional) that one can witness. Its the kind of film that you understand, can relate to and pulls you in every direction. You know this happened 70 years ago, but the reality is palpable and upsetting. There are no light moments - this is the real world. It is a tribute to the people of Poland and their bravery.
This film is for fans of history and the truth. To date, approximately 22,000 Poles have been found in mass graves in the "Katyn" forest and these mass grave discoveries are continuing to be found.