Running Time: 121 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
Having Polish family and being a history geek I have been looking forward to Andrzej Wadjas Katyn for a long time. The film came out way back in 2007 in his native Poland and gained an Oscar nomination in 2008 but has only just secured a UK release, albeit on a limited scale. The fact that it has come out at in this country at all is very important because events such as Katyn are indelibly written in Polish history but hardly anyone outside of the country knows about them. With Defiance also out earlier this year, times seem to be right to bring to our attentions the forgotten histories of Eastern Europe.
Katyn examines the slaughter of thousands of Polish officers in the forests of Western Russia in 1940 by the Soviet Army. Initially, the Germans and the Soviets, who had divided invaded Poland between themselves, blamed each other. After Germanys defeat in the war the Russian propaganda machine made Germanys guilt for the slaughter official. It was not up until the end of the Soviet Union that irrefutable evidence came to light, that Russia could not ignore, and they had to admit guilt. The film follows some of those soldiers who went to their deaths in Katyn and then goes on to examine the fall-out as the truth is covered up over the following years.
The main drawback of this film is that there are far too many characters, many of whom appear midway through from seemingly nowhere. They are all interrelated in some way (mothers, fathers, sisters, cousins, daughters and nephews of the soldiers) but it is often hard to tell exactly how they fit into the story. Each individual spends an equal amount of time on screen so we are not really given a constant whose character can develop and be followed throughout the narrative.
If you come to this film with little knowledge of the background to the events, or even twentieth century Polish history, it is an almost impenetrable film. My girlfriend leaned across to me after half an hour and told me, I have no idea whats happening. The six year spread of events is not very well connected so without prior knowledge it is hard to know what happened in the meantime. We do not even get a contextual snippet at the beginning and end of the film. You would think that in taking this subject to the world it would be made more accessible, however, if you do your homework beforehand and come to it as a Pole might, this is a very rewarding film. It cannot be doubted that this is an accurate, painstakingly made film. The emotive subject of the film is handled very well with the subject of grief and second-hand guilt at the forefront. The final scene at Katyn is gruesome and drawn out, underlining the brutality of the event and really brings a tear to the eye. Clever use was also made of archive propaganda footage as the Germans and the Russians blamed each other in almost comically similar ways.
It's Got: A subject worth tackling, emotive drama, well-used archive footage
It Needs: Less characters, Lesser timeframe
Katyn is at times inaccessible but well worth sticking with, if only to learn about this dark episode from Polish history.