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MSPIFF: Katyn

Posted at 10:43 AM on April 20, 2008 by Euan Kerr

Polish director Andrzej Wayda has unflinchingly explored aspects of the recent history of his homeland. His films best known outside Poland were his dramas set against the rise of the Solidarity movement "Men of Iron," and "Men of Marble." They showed a harsh world tinged with a fierce optimism for the future.

His latest film "Katyn" has no such happy ending. Early in World War II some 15,000 Polish officers captured after the Nazis and Russians invaded their country were murdered in the Katyn Forest. When the atrocities were revealed to the nation later in the war the Polish government blamed the Nazis, pointing to how each man had been shot in the back of the head, which was described as a Nazi technique. However rumors began to circulate that is was the Russians who committed the murders.

Wajda's bleakly beautiful film lays out how the Polish officers, who had little inkling of their fate, felt bound by their code of military honor to follow orders and do as they were told. He also shows the impact on the families, also bound by a code of honor, and then fear, as it becomes clear what happens to people who question the official line.

It's a tough story, told remarkably. The film was nominated for best foreign language Oscar this year. (Katyn screens tonight at 7.15 and then next Sunday at 9.20)

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