Berlinale: Katyn – the untold story of Polish WW II massacre

17th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Director Wajda says it was the film he thought he would never make.

Berlin -- Katyn, veteran director Andrzej Wajda's haunting account of the World War II massacre of Poland's officer corps, is a film he thought he would never make.

"For many years it was not possible. It was only after the collapse of communism that we could do it," the Oscar-winning filmmaker said after Katyn was screened to the press at the Berlin film festival on Friday.

The movie examines the 1940 massacre of thousands of Polish officers and intellectuals by the Soviet secret service and the ensuing cover-up by Moscow and Poland's postwar communist leadership.

One of the darkest moments in Polish history, the events are shown through the eyes of the wives, mothers and daughters waiting for the men, not knowing they are never coming back.

"My father was one of those officers murdered," Wajda said. "My mother believed right up to when she died in 1950 that he would come back from the war."

Wajda's father, who is not mentioned in the film, was among the thousands of bodies discovered by German troops in 1943 in the forest of Katyn, near the city of Smolensk in western Russia.

The cover-up was exposed in 1990, a year after the collapse of communism, when the Soviet Union released documents acknowledging that the massacre was ordered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

The film ends with a flashback to the spring of 1940 when the Polish officers are taken in railway wagons to Smolensk and driven into the forest.

In a stomach-churning sequence that lasts for more than 10 minutes, Wadja shows how each officer is is tied up and murdered, one-by-one, with a shot in the head from behind.

Katyn is running out of competition in this year's Berlinale, which draws to a close on Saturday with the awarding of the coveted Gold Bear for best picture.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband were due to attend the international premier of the film on Friday afternoon.

"I think it's a wonderful gesture," Wajda said. "It's not possible to move forward without talking about the past," he said in reference to the often troubled relationship between Germans and Poles.

Katyn is one of four movies nominated for an Oscar as best foreign language film at this year's Academy Awards. In 2000, Wajda earned an honorary Academy Award in recognition of his services to the cinema.

Wajda, whose films have been selected on three previous occasions for the Berlinale, was awarded an honorary Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement in 2006.

Since its release in Poland in September 2007, Katyn has been seen by nearly 3 million people.

"The success goes far beyond our expectations," Wajda said. "It is an indication that the general public in Poland had been waiting for a film like this."

On the fringes of the festival, the film was sold to a host of countries, including Germany, Greece, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Iran as well as to outlets in South America, the Middle East and Scandinavia.

Starring Maja Ostaszewska, Artur Zmijewski and Andrzej Chyra, the film is based on the book Post mortem -- the Katyn story by Andrzej Mularczyk.

The director, who turns 82 in March, has made more than 40 films in a career spanning more than five decades, some of them crafted from tragic episodes in Polish history.

Man of Iron, which featured Solidarity leader Lech Walesa appear as himself, won him the Palme d'Or (Golden Palm) at the Cannes festival and an Oscar nomination for the best foreign language film.

A scheduled screening of Katyn in Moscow on March 5, the 55th anniversary of Stalin's death, was cancelled, apparently because of the Russian presidential elections taking place around that time.

"I didn't want to see the film used for political purposes," Wajda said, denying it was anti-Russian. "This is a film about mourning. It's not a political film."

DPA with Expatica

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