The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.
The 1940 Soviet massacre of over 20,000 Polish internees, including some 12,000 officers in Katyn forest, was, by any measure, a horrific war crime, yet one that has never been prosecuted, and one that has been shrouded and confused over the past half century by coverups, propaganda and a general desire to forget the past. (The Soviet government did not officially admit that the killings were ordered by Stalin until 1990.)
Wajda’s masterful film centers on this dismal episode by revealing the webs of commitment and interaction that connect disparate lives – from an impetuous youth, to the staid wife of an executed general. Most all of the movie is an examination of these connections, of how lies and fabrications feed terror, of how in war there are seldom good choices between right and wrong. Only in the closing minutes, after all the victims have been deeply humanized, is the brutal, machine-like horror of the killings brought to center stage. The effect is powerful and profound.
The misty cinematography, in hues of brown and grey, evokes the mood and texture of wartime. Characters are richly drawn, and if at times the sudden introduction of new faces is confusing, it is only until one realizes Wajda’s intent: these people could be any of us.
Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2009