Andrzej Wajda's dissection of one of the most atrocious and yet forgotten crimes in history - the Katyn massacre - left me in a depressed frame of mind for a number of days. The film is excellent, there is no doubt about that, but it was the realism along with a sense of concentrated madness characteristic of Wajda's vision that had me in a paralysed state, wanting to turn away from the images projected before me.
The massacre at Katyn happened in the Spring of 1940 and the murders that took place in the ironically peaceful woods have been noted as one of the most appalling crimes in Twentieth Century history. An estimated 22,000 of Polish nationals were systematically executed at the hands of Soviet Secret Police. Among those killed were army officials, along with their wives and children and the crème de la crème of Polish intellectual society.
Wajda really emphasises the realness of these killings as I was constantly reminded of his earlier film
The Promised Land/ Ziemia Obiecana (1975) where emphasis was focused on the machinery in the factory that caused the sinister deaths of the workers. The wealthy owners of the company are placed in a grotesque light as they indulge in luxury lifestyles pertaining to fine dining, womanising and gambling. Underlying these images is the idea that all this madness and thirst for money, more specifically laundered money, could only lead to a grim ending. A similar notion manifests in Katyn, particularly during the pivotal murder scene where the camera focuses on the sinister twitching a pilot's fingers as he is buried alive in the mass grave.
Although it is a difficult viewing, Katyn is worth watching, if not for Wajda's conscientious handling of the event then at least for the history lesson.