Year: 2007

Language: Polish, German, Russian

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Cast: Artur Zmijewski, Maja Ostaszewska


To say that the Soviet era did have its fair share of issues is an understatement. To actually see the horror it unleashed, on screen, is an experience in the futile game of asking the world, ‘Why?! Why this mindless murder?’

Katyn is a mind-numbing movie about the Katyn forest massacre of Polish Soldiers in 1940. It is based on the book Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn by Andrzej Mularczyk. It talks of the desperate attempts of the Soviet Army to pin the horrifying massacre on the Nazi Germans, even killing in the style of the Gestapo with a shot at the back of the head, which comes out through the forehead. The movie starts off with a young woman, Anna (Ostaszewska) and her daughter desperately traversing the lengths of Poland in search of her husband, Andrzej (Zmijewski) who we learn is an officer with the Polish Army. She finally finds him and begs him to return home with her. He refuses saying that he has an oath to the State. She returns home and he is carted off somewhere.

There are many small stories set within the larger narrative associated with the Katyn massacre. They all relate to the same mind-crushing reality of the ruthless high-handedness of the Soviets. The movie is mostly seen from the eyes of the women – the women who have been left behind. Andrej’s father is the head of a University. One evening, he goes for a meeting at the University and is informed that the University has to be shut immediately upon orders from Germany. He is then taken away.  Dissent has no place in this stifling regime and anyone who utters a word against orders stares death in the face. Everything and everyone must be controlled.

Andrej is taken from one camp to another and all throughout he maintains a diary of the events as they take place. His wife remains optimistic, always imagining the next knock on the door will be that of her husband. Even 5 long years after his capture. The public address systems and the newspapers maintain lists of those Polish people who have been executed at Katyn and she desperately looks into each for any sign of Andrej. He isn’t on any of the lists but after 5 years, his friend Major Jersky returns with news of his death. Andrej was killed at Katyn. She receives his diary and the movie flashes back to the events after Andrej was taken away.

The Polish men (army officers, police, intelligentsia, lawyers, doctors and so on) who are on the lists are simply lined up, taken inside the executing chamber where the gunman waits to shoot. That one bullet at the back of the head. The body is then put into a chute through which it slides and on the other side, there are more people waiting to take the body and load it into a truck. Those who were not killed in this fashion at various camps were taken to the Katyn forest, shot and their bodies simply thrown into the huge pits that were dug. Andrej was one such casualty.

Why? Why did the Soviets carry out this mindless war crime? Simply to kill? Historians say it was to wipe out a majority of the Polish armed forces so that it would have become easier for the Soviet Army to gain control over Poland. Some others say it was simply to pin blame on the Nazis and drive deep wedges between states. Whatever the twisted reasons may be, it really makes one think and ponder over the utter, despicable futility of war and killing.

Verdict: Do watch it to know of a few episodes in the travails of Man, the beast.

Rating: 4/5

Hot: A great insight into an infrequently heard-of episode in the bloody Soviet history

Not: May not be easily stomached by all. It is about calculated, pre-meditated mass murder after all.