special-event-katyn-feb-4thWajda was 14 years old when his father was murdered in the Katyn massacre of 1940. The Soviets only admitted responsibility 50 years later. Wajda concentrates as strongly on the personal and family consequences as upon the massacre itself. A harrowing testament to the evils of war, but an important milestone in Polish / Russian history, that this film could now be made. (Cert 15)
Dir: Andrzej Wajda 121 mins Poland 2007

Introduction by Dr Hubert Zawadski, co-author of A Concise History of Poland (CUP). The screening will start at 7.30 p.m.

Programme Notes

Thursday February 4th 2010

Special Event – KATYN

Poland 2007 117 mins Cert 15

Introduced by Dr Hubert Zawadzki, co-author of A Concise History of Poland
(Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Now mentor to a new generation of Polish filmmakers, Andrzej Wajda returned to the WW2 period of his outstanding trilogy – A Generation (1954), Kanal (1956) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958) – for this epic interpretation of one of the key tragedies in recent Polish history; the capture, imprisonment and massacre in 1940 of some 20,000 army officers (Wajda’s own father among them) in forests near the Russian village of Katyn. For decades after it took place, the massacre was an absolutely forbidden topic in Poland and hence the source of a profound and lasting mistrust between the Poles and their Soviet conquerors. The very word ‘Katyn’ came to mean not just the single wartime event but a whole series of falsehoods and distortions surrounding Soviet WW2 oppression of Poland, repeated over many years to disguise the reality of post-war occupation and loss of the country’s sovereignty.

When the film premiered in Warsaw – co-incident with the 68th anniversary of the invasion by Soviet forces – Wajda was pressed by commentators and critics to explain his motives behind the project. As so much had already been written and said about the subject since the late 1980s (when it finally became possible to talk openly about the tragedy) they asked “Why Katyn? Why now?”. His most striking answer, other than admitting that only recently had he come up with a script he liked, involved the film’s potential audience. Since most of the people who remembered the actual events were now dead, (Wajda himself was then 80yrs old), the film could not be made for them. So instead he wanted to tell the story again for “Those (young) moviegoers for whom it matters that we are a society and not just an accidental crowd”.

As well as fashioning a major work of national cinema, he wanted his film to get the people of Poland talking to one another, to reflect on common experiences, to define common values, to admire similar virtues, to forge a civil society out of an anonymous crowd. He has therefore made a film that asks not just “What happened?” or “What did the Soviets do to us?” but rather “How did we, as a society, react afterwards?” as well as “How do we remember it now?” With two million out of a population of 39 million going to see Katyn in the first month after its release (it was shown at almost every cinema in the land and reviewed in all the newspapers and magazines) and, more importantly, with everyone talking about the film long afterwards, Wajda can fairly be said to have at least got the conversation started.

Acknowledgements: Anne Applebaum, New York Review of Books, Leslie Felperin, Variety

Lieutenant Jerzy – Andrzej Chyra
Anna – Maja Ostaszewska
Andrzej – Artur Zmijewski
Roza – Danuta Stenka
General – Jan Englert
Agnieska – Magdalena Cielecka
Irena – Agnieska Glinska
Lieutenant Piotr – Pawel Malaszinski

Director – Andrzej Wajda
Producer – Michal Kwiecinski
Original Story – Andrzej Mularczyk
Screenplay – Przemyslaw Nowakowski, Wladyslaw Pasikowski, Andrzej Wajda
Cinematography – Pawel Edelman
Original Music – Krzysztof Penderecki


“A very important film”

“An outstanding film that looked into one of the darkest chapters in Polish history. The speaker’s in-depth talk helped us understand the themes and the context in which they were dealt with in the film.”

“A very powerful and disturbing film, even before the massacre was shown. More horrific than most horror films.”

“This film should be screened in every school to show the evil of both state and individuals in dictatorships.”

“Sobering in its story of inhumanity”

“Epic, harrowing. My student’s great-grandfather died at Katyn.”

“A very informative introduction, making the background [to the events] clear and the film more understandable. Impressive!”

“A truly awful situation”

“An excellent film”

“An appalling theme but rather convoluted in the post-WW2 [period] and difficult to follow. The film was not as great as its subject.”

“A very striking and sad film. Ambitious but I’m not sure it ultimately hit the target. It meandered a bit in the middle, making the third and final sections (the young boy at the college) seem rather artificial and tacked on.”

“Important to remember that such things happened but that was then …”

“Three hours in a Lecture Theatre seat is somewhat uncomfortable.”

Comments from respondents who did not award an A – E score:

“A very significant film but [it] doesn’t feel possible to rate it.”

“I cannot find it in me to rate this film as it is like Holocaust [the TV mini-series?], a film based on the truth and truly shocking in its portrayal of what happened.”

“I don’t want to grade this film but I’m glad that it was made.”

“So powerful I can make no comment, only [remain in] awe.”

“Not really possible to discuss this as a film – eg, camera angles, lighting, etc.”


A:37, B:7, C:0, D:0, E:0 to give 96%