Tuesday, August 18, 2009

KATYN (Andrzej Wajda, 2007, Poland) Faded graphite scribbles upon the bloodstained pages of a soldier’s diary forever reminds the world that the guilty need to be held accountable, or humanity’s moral ledger will sum less than zero. Director Andrzej Wajda’s alchemical mixture of fiction and horrific fact has transformed the Katyn massacre into an immortal metaphor, a story that transcends its time and whose sad wisdom is accessible to every culture, country, or individual. Over 22,000 Polish POWs were murdered in the cold Katyn forest and death camps during the Soviet invasion in 1940, while survivors were enlisted into the People’s Army of Poland, crushed under the Iron Curtin of repression. Wajda’s magic is to take a statistic and give it a human identity allowing us to comprehend the emotional toll that otherwise would overwhelm our senses. He focuses the narrative upon families awaiting the news of their detained loved ones, a wife or sister who listens anxiously to daily broadcasts of the deceased, eaten alive by fear but never quite emptied of hope. From the opening sequence where panicked civilians are trapped on a bridge between two destinies; Wajda shows us the dichotomies of the spirit, of duty, of the power and will to survive…or die. Andrzej is a young soldier who keeps a diary of his incarceration, detailing the daily boredom and torment: a man who had the chance for escape but whose moral obligation to his country outweighed his concept of self. As we follow his wife and daughter throughout the film, we fear his death as news of the massacre becomes public, these honorable victims reduced to nothing more than Nazi propaganda. Wajda intersperses the film with black & white documentary newsreels; vile unforgettable images that no special effects could ever duplicate. This intuitively awakens us to the reality of the film, though we are watching an amalgam of fiction and fact. The schism is revealed further in the relationship between Andrzej and his friend Jerzy, a soldier who becomes subsumed by the Communist regime, the awful knowledge smothering his spirit, entombed with his friends in the Katyn Forest: with a single gunshot, he finds salvation. Finally the diary is unearthed and its blank pages flutter like dead leaves, the last entry dating to 1940: the Soviet invasion. Joseph Stalin said, “One death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic”: he must have been a great statistician. (B+)

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