Recommended Film: Katyń

As a treat for Easter, the brothers watched the film Katyń, which recounts the horrible massacre of some 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia in the forest of Katyn, not far from the western Russian city of Smolensk. The film, directed by Andrzej Wajda, is based on the novel, Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn by Andrzej Mularczyk. Mularczyk’s work is a fictionalized account that views the history surrounding the massacre through the eyes of families affected by the tragedy.

The mass murder of these Polish men, who were buried in an enormous common grave in the forest, was carried out by the NKVD, the USSR’s infamous precursor to the KGB. Joseph Stalin himself signed the order to commit the crime. But, as a tribute to the Bolshevik persistence, the Soviet lie that the atrocity was carried out by the Nazis was not officially repudiated by the Soviet Union until 1990, a full fifty years after the fact.

The film is not pleasant. It could not possibly be so. But it is gripping. It shows the vicious face of Communism, and the painful vicissitudes of the Polish nation suffering from successive Nazi and Bolshevik invasions. Cowardice and heroism are seen side by side in characters that are very believable.

Good direction and stunning camera work complement superb acting. And the eerie film score of Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki is aptly macabre but stirring. (At the end, Penderecki’s setting of the requiem is heard as the screen goes black, and stays so for a strangely long time before the closing credits start rolling: very effective.) Because of all this, the fact that the film is all in Polish — and appropriate bits of Russian and German — is, if this can be believed, almost unnoticed. (Yes, there are English subtitles.)

The film is a very Catholic piece of art. By that, I mean that Catholicism is visible all throughout. In it, we see clergy, sacraments, men sentenced to death desperately praying, and rosaries — one of which was very touchingly given to the sister of the officer who died clutching it. The priest who did this, by the way, was arrested for not going along with the lie that the communists attempted to force upon the Polish people, namely, that the Nazis did it in 1941, and not they in 1940. But the film’s Catholicism is more in its atmosphere than in any one or all of these visual signs. Perhaps the most Catholic thing about Katyń was the refusal of its good and noble characters to believe “the lie.” They would even be imprisoned for not going along with it. For Catholics, Truth is a Person, and lies are an affront to that Person.

Wikipedia has an informative article on the Katyn massacre, and one on the film, Katyń. According to Wikipedia, “In April 2009, the authorities of the People’s Republic of China banned the movie from being distributed in the country due to its anti-communist ideology.” That’s backhanded flattery, Chicom style. Surprisingly, that same source says that:

In August 2010, Andrzej Wajda was honored with the Russian Order of Friendship “for his contribution to the development of Russian-Polish relations in the field of culture”. On that occasion, Russian broadcaster NTV stated that Katyń was “one of the most acclaimed premiers in Russia in 2010”.