Andrzej WAJDA - KATYŃ from 15 April 2008 Uránia Nemzeti Filmszínház

Monday 14 April 2008, 8:00 pm

Uránia, Budapest


from 15 April 2008 in Hungarian cinemas!

official Hungarian premiere

14 April 2008. 18.00
Uránia Nemzeti Filmszínház
(with invitations only)

KATYN - official website:
(Polish, English)


After many attempts and much thought, I am now certain that a film about Katyn cannot set a goal of discovering the whole truth about that event, since it is now a historical and political fact.

Those facts, to the viewer of today, could be a background for such events as human lots, since only they, shown on the big screen, can move the viewer in contrast to the relations of our history that has its place in the written stories of those times.

Therefore, I see my film about Katyn as a story of a family separated forever, about great illusions and the brutal truth about the Katyn crime. In a word, a film about individual suffering, which evokes images of much greater emotional content than naked historical facts. A film that shows the terrible truth that hurts, whose characters are not the murdered officers, but women who await their return every day, every hour, suffering inhuman uncertainty. Loyal and unshaken, convinced that it was only enough to open the door to see the long awaited man at it as the tragedy of Katyn concerns those who live and lived then.

After years away from the Katyń tragedy, from the German exhumation in 1943 and next the Polish research work in the 90's, and even despite partial disclosing of the archives, we still know too little what the Katyń crime looked like in April and May 1940, committed on the strength of the decision by Stalin and his comrades of the Politburo of the Communist Party in Moscow on March 5, 1940.

No wonder that for years we were convinced that our father could be living, as the last name Wajda featured on the Katyń list, but with the first name of Karol.

Mother, almost till the end of her days, believed her husband would return, my father Jakub Wajda, a combatant of the Great War, the Polish-Soviet war, the Silesian Uprising, and the September campaign of 1939, the recipient of the Silver Cross and the Order of Virtuti Militari awarded posthumously.

I would not like the Katyn film, however, to be my personal search for the truth and a vigil light lit on the grave of Captain Jakub Wajda. Let it spin a tale about the suffering and drama of many Katyń families. About the Katyn lie that triumphs over the grave of Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, which forced into silence about it for half a century the then allies, the Western ones of the USSR in the war against Hitler: Great Britain and the United States.

I know that the young generation, fully aware and with enthusiasm, is moving away from our past. Busy with mundane matters, they forget names and dates, which, no matter if we want it or not, create us as a nation with its fears and misgivings surfacing at every political opportunity.

Not long ago, a high school student on a TV program, asked what he associated September 17 with, answered: with a church holiday. Maybe thanks to our film, the young man asked about Katyń will be able to say more than that it is the name of a small town not far away from Smolensk.

Reviews of the film:

by Tadeusz Sobolewski of the Gazeta Wyborcza of September, 18, 2007

The big screen image of Katyń will enter collective memory as a presentation of innocent Polish death. Everybody will see this film. I saw it not at an ceremonious opening but in secret at a cozy press screening. Now that Poland is artificially inflamed, nibbled at with patriots of various fractions hurling insults at one another, they may also put the screws on the film about Katyń, which is quite clear, judging by the tone of some statements. No matter what you can accuse Wajda of, be it a certain didacticism or theatricality of some scenes, what really strikes you is his striving for an apolitical attitude that has featured in his works from the start.

This films wants nothing from us nor tries to convert us to anything. The coloring of Paweł Edelman's cinematography, the music of Krzysztof Penderecki (perfectly selected fragments of finished pieces), and the low-profile acting, try to make an impression as if the film were covered in ashes. Its key is mournful and penitential. This protects the film from firebrands, whose weapon is aggression. You have this irresistible felling that this film is doing good for Poland, clears the air of hatred.

The last scene shows the shooting of officers, culminating the whole film. Nobody has shown it yet, so we see it for the first time. As once, in Wanda Jakubowska's Ostatni etap of 1948, the Poles saw a picture of crematoria for the first time. Katyń is half a century overdue. From my childhood, I remember that word, mysterious and unspeakable, as if its use threatened you with something. In Polish its morphological structure reminds you of torture; (Katyń, a geographical name, katować – to torture).

The cinematic image of Katyń will enter collective memory as a presentation of innocent Polish death and the covered-up truth, which will be shown in its brutal dimensions. This alone must have been argument enough to make this film, to become a new Matejko, Grottger, or a Polish Goya, painting the shooting of patriots. In his film the Katyń scene has its strength and also a certain aesthetic modesty. There is no imposed symbolism in it, no additional effects except the Lord's Prayer repeated by the officers, which seems quite natural. The music dies down, only to build up again. The last words heard in the film, right after the scene of quick, as if accelerated shooting, come from Penderecki's oratorio: “Requiem aeternam do-na eis – Eternal peace.”

A symbolic burial of the victims.

One of the earliest ideas of the ending, which Włodzimierz Odojewski is said to have suggested, the author of the famous description of the Katyn crime in his novel Zasypie wszystko, zawieje, was a vision of the dead rising from the pits. The Katyń Forest, like the Birnam Forest of Macbeth, springing to life to threaten the incumbent rulers. That symbolic vision was born in the times when the Katyn lie and the covered-up truth spread not only over the USSR and People's Poland, but also to the West, which wouldn't hear from Poles about Stalinist crimes. Finally, the West listened to Solzhenitsyn...

Wajda's film in 2007, naturally, has a different meaning. Its addressee is us not the world. It is not calling heavens for vengeance.

During the premiere at the Wielki Teatr, after the last frames, in silence, a single voice said the Lord's Prayer. That's how Katyń elicits response from the audience. The cinematography of Paweł Edelman, the music by Krzysztof Penderecki, and the low-profile acting try to make an impression as if the film were covered in ashes. Its key is mournful. In the frame, the Christmas Eve of the Polish POW's with Paweł Małaszyński as the pilot in the foreground, whose sister would try to build a symbolic grave for him.

With this film, Wajda unexpectedly revives the traditional Poland's relationship with misfortune, unwanted, forgotten, incompatible with the civilizational supermarket in the crowd of other voices after Rwanda, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Iraq, and Darfur.

To me, Katyń is not so much the bringing to light of the covered-up war crime, which Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia blamed each other with, as a symbolic burial of its victims.

This film is a gesture of Antigone. Sophocles' lines are literally integrated with dialogs. For instance, in the conversation of the two sisters of a pilot killed in Katyń,

Agnieszka (Magdalena Cielecka) and Irena (Agnieszka Glińska). The former wants to build a symbolic grave for their brother, the latter, however, thinks that the manifestation makes little sense. With the memory of the victims in you, you have to recognize the laid down law: There will never be a free Poland! Visions of the end of Poland permeate Wajda's film in the scene of tearing the white-and-red flag into two, to make makeshift socks of the white part, or in the scene, where the figure of Christ covered with a soldier's overcoat, is carried out of the church during the flight from the eastern territories.

The memory of Katyń is identified here with loyalty to Poland that is dying. The Katyń death is a burden on the consciousness of the main characters, taking its toll after the war too. Like fate, it catches up with those who have crossed to the other side, such as Jerzy (Andrzej Chyra) saved from Kozielsk, now returning in the uniform of the Kosciusko Infantry Division. He will also have to die in the film by committing suicide with the hypocritical speech of Wanda Wasilewska in the background.

Wajda's film gives me trouble with its radicalization of memory. In line with the conventional knowledge, Jerzy, a soldier of the Kosciusko Infantry Division, who was likely to remember the slaughter at Lenino Stalin had sent Poles to, did not have to be ashamed of his uniform in the post-war Poland. My family memory tells me that Kosciusko soldiers, liberating us from the Nazi occupation, brought along the true knowledge about the Soviet system. The liberation was a new enslavement and the beginning of a new life at the same time. In post-war Polish art, it was none other than young Wajda who brought that unsolved dilemma to a head in his Ashes and Diamonds. The memorable scene of the conversation of Maciek, an underground fighter, who wants to live, do his duty, and abandon the mission; is played out in a ruined chapel under the crucifix hanging upside down overhead. It is hard to imagine a more eloquent image of an inevitable victim with no sense of redeeming himself, who is wasted, like Maciek Cybulski's life. That film, shocking with the horror of death, addressed life in protest against history and all those political powers from the left and right, ready to squander young lives. No wonder that years later, Wajda prophesied and supported the Solidarity, becoming a prisoner of her myth anyway. That was a dream come true of his generation about the first bloodless and victorious Polish uprising that broke the chain of disasters.

Half a century later, Wajda in his Katyń again sentences his Maciek to death (in the character of a partisan boy, a would-be student of Kraków's Fine Arts Academy), as if he questioned his subsequent life and achievements. In the half-hearted scenes of the film, devoid of substantial reality, lacking the shocking expressiveness of Canal or Ashes and Diamonds, in the dialog lines that smack of abstract school knowledge, full of information as if they were from a soap, a hidden tragedy shows through. Wajda touched the untied knot of the post-war Polish existence. Its tragedy is exploited today by the powers that be, used to blackmail people with it, dividing them into the best and worse Poles, depending on the degree of acceptance of the post-war system, in which, willy-nilly, everybody lived under the Soviet rule with appearances of independence.

We used to push away that tragedy. We did not live through it till the end, nor wanted to go though it facing the future.

Let me wax personal: In 1939 my father lost his former family due to German bombs. After the war he started over. But for that tragedy, I wouldn't have come into this world. I'd push his misfortune away from me, remaining fully aware of it. He also pushed it away all his life, never forgetting about it till the end. In that double process of retaining the memory of misfortune and waving it aside without a sense of betrayal, it was art that helped, the anti-heroic cinema of the Polish school that conveyed traumatic images of death that were supposed to cleanse us rather than burden.

To Overcome Trauma
We live through tragedy in art, which we don't want to do in life. This may be the secret of Katyń, which we can predict will be a big success in Poland. Like Wajda's erstwhile films, this is also addressed to us all above all divisions. What politics preys on is transferred into the sphere of tragedy here. You sense the former Wajda's inclination for cruelty - as the intrigue of Katyń boils down to dispelling of illusions and confronting us with the brutal truth of the officers' death that gets through in the finale. We want to see it and say goodbye to it. To overcome trauma, that is. It is the secret of art that the image of this death rather than make us go into a rage, will unite the viewers no matter all the stupid party and ideological divisions soon to be forgotten.

Everyone will go to see Katyń.

“All of us,” wrote Józef Czapski in 1950, “regardless of whether we want it or not,

are connected with an invisible chain, whose one of the last links is Katyń.” The writer and literature professor Maria Janion, quoting that in one of her books, supplemented it with a sentence we could hardly expect from this revisionist of Polish mythology: “The corpses unite us. Hence you are Polish.” The most cruel censure of Poland cannot step over that invisible chain, cause to make it break off, and cross over to happier or more brilliant peoples.

With this film, Wajda unexpectedly revives the traditional Poland's relationship with misfortune – unwanted, forgotten, and incompatible with the civilizational supermarket.

Quite a different film about Katyń could have been made: realistic, devoid of academic didacticism, featuring the notorious hellish feuds of the imprisoned POW's by the Soviets, whose trace we can find in the Christmas Eve scene in Kozielsk in Wajda's film. Wajda chose another road in line with his artistic temperament. After all he has always provided us with images for national imagination. Such is the case this time around too.

by Jacek Wakar, deputy editor-in-chief of the Kultura section of the Dziennik daily of September 21, 2007

Though Katyń does not belong among Andrzej Wajda's masterpieces, it is by no means in the Panna Nikt or The Holy Week league. The dirt dished so far to the effect that the artist lost his wrestling match with the subject and an academic drivel was all he managed to accomplish has turned out to be insubstantial.

There are scenes in Wajda's new film that embed themselves in the memory, a proof that the old master has not lost his touch and can still describe pictorially without overdoing it with words. He unmistakably chooses significant symbols and there is little doubt that Katyń is serious, well-balanced cinema, demanding a discourse that measures up to its level. This film that moves you purposely with an elegiac tone cannot be written off as the usual cinema fare. You read it like a requiem, barring multiple interpretations, which is an asset and a price the director has to pay at the same time.

Wajda is an old hand at shooting national tours de force, and is always, before the premiere, burdened with the pressure of various expectations. It suffices to mention that his national epic Pan Tadeusz. Katyń, however, was even more difficult in this respect, fraught with so many moral obligations that cannot be just enumerated in one breath. This is the first film about the Katyń crime, the first attempt at a big subject, a long overdue repayment of the debt to the families of the murdered, squaring accounts with the heritage of Wajda's own family, and, the last but not least, an educational intention to bring those events closer to the attention of the young.

That, naturally, imposed limitations. Wajda had to be straightforward in his delivery and to sketch the portraits of his characters with a crude line, so that they could appear opposing types rather than complex and full-blooded figures. As much as the austerity of the picture and the actors' restrained simplicity impress us a lot in Katyn, the tenuous psychology of the characters and their comic-book diversification start annoying you after some time. Wajda tries his darnedest to have his film universally understood, sacrificing whatever could only trouble the viewer. He consciously staked his idea on a para-documentary style, got rid of any embellishments, and now strikes you with a uniform tonality of the whole. You soon catch on with the cinematographer Paweł Edelman's idea.

The women in Wajda's film transfer Katyń into another dimension, more intimate and private rather than have the story slavishly follow Edelman's bare facts, who composes opaque if not blurred images, devoid of light.

The image in Katyń is consistent, and from its aesthetic (deliberately wanting) side the film seems to be a closed whole, nothing to add or to detract from. Especially, as the most striking sequences strongly depend on image and sound for effect. This concerns the prologue played out on September 17, 1939, where civilian population: women and children crossing over the Bug River to the eastern side, suddenly is dumbstruck by the news of a Soviet attack. Or the Christ Is Born carol during the Christmas Eve supper in the POW's camp in Kozielsk spreading quietly, as if a disturbing rustle, all over the camp. At last, the deliberately extended scene of the execution, where Wajda and Edelman seem to test the viewer's endurance of evil and physical cruelty. The consecutive mute murders depend for their brutal effect on their terrifying monotony and repetitiveness.

Yet even then with your skin crawling at those moments, Katyń never strays from a simple description of events. It remains a correct film, as if that correctness were again an obligation Wajda could not escape from. It is quite obvious that the film will become an illustration at history lessons in schools and you need no stretch of imagination to picture the crowds in front of box offices. In large measure those crowds will get what they have been expecting: an honest talk about a war episode, falsified for years, this time delivered straightforwardly without unnecessarily engaging your imagination. So Wajda will prove to be up to the task shouldered on him for years and assume the role of a prophet revealing the Poles their history. And he strictly delivers what the producer or the viewer has ordered to satisfy the universal demand. Once, in his greatest tours de force the master used to contrive a world on the big screen and asked about the laws it was subject to. It used to be a cruel world, or a pastoral one, though marked with the stigma of disaster. And Wajda had an incredible intuition as regards big scenes, metaphors that many a time changed the sense of the whole.

There are no such moments in Katyń though. It is not a picture of the world with all its complexities, at least stifled with the panchromatic vision of the war. It is hard to say anything special about the reality around the heroes of Katyń except the crime itself, or how the filmmaker sees that world. All the more so because Wajda didn't make his task easier writing the script along with Władysław Pasikowski and Przemysław Nowakowski. Never mind some subplots barely sketched in many cases.

It's worse with dialog lines, which sound excruciatingly half-hearted, killing emotions.

Therefore, what remains in my memory are the tormented faces that say more than words, the disturbing ambivalence of Andrzej Chyra, and the quiet low voice of Jan Englert during the Christmas Eve supper in the camp.

But first of all the women always with their fascinating acting interpretations: Maja , Komorowska - full of quiet pain, Danuta Stenka - caustic with her face tightened, and finally the one on whom most depends in Wajda's film: Maja Ostaszewska, who plays Anna waiting with her daughter for her cavalry captain of a husband to return home. At first she believes unswervingly and uncritically, later merely on the strength of her determination, only typical of women. There is strength and brightness in her character and hardness that she acquires after every next humiliation.

The women in Wajda's film transfer Katyń into another dimension, intimate and private rather than have the story slavishly follow the facts of the terrible war episode. They give the film a new kind of screening, uttered in whisper.

Had the whole Wajda's film followed the direction mapped out by his actresses, we could be talking about its success. Yet the historical homework was done, the debts paid and obligations fulfilled. It is worthy, however, to listen intently to this requiem and to discover for yourself the private color of its elegiac tone without deluding yourself that Katyń is anything more than the sum of its parts.

KATYŃ by Marek Sadowski of the Rzeczpospolita daily of September 21, 2007

Premiere A National Tragedy in an Artistic Dimension

The Katyń crime, the murder by the Soviets, in cold blood, of thousands of Polish officers, for half a century was covered up with a conspiracy of silence or blamed on the Germans. The truth about it has survived thanks to the collective memory of families of the murdered as well as to the publications issued first by Polish emigré circles, or to the illicit historical publications in the country. Yet it took 18 years to wait for the first feature about Katyń since Poland regained her full freedom.

It was shot by an artist best predisposed to tackle such a subject. First, because of his earlier films, where he grappled many a time with history and Polish national myths.

Second, because of his private ordeals, as his father Jakub Wajda was murdered in the Katyń Forest.

Katyń is consciously-made simple cinema, moving, and exposing not only the very crime, but also the lie about it.

Its dramaturgy is built around three big scenes. One in the prologue, played out on September 17, 1939, where crowds of people rush across the bridge on the Bug from both the sides. Some are running away from the Germans, the others, from the Soviets. Another is the Christmas Eve supper in the camp of Kozielsk, and the third is the unusually dramatic final sequence - leaving a lump in your throat - which is the execution of the Poles with pistol shots in the back of the head in the NKVD torture chambers of Smolensk and over the burial pits in the Katyń Forest.

It's no accident that the characters have no last names: Cavalry captain Andrzej (Żmijewski), Lieutenant pilot (Małaszyński), Lieutenant Jerzy (Chyra), General (Englert) are symbols of husbands, sons, or fathers. It was their return from the Soviet slavery for what their mothers, wives, and sisters were waiting. They are the main characters of the film. For years they lived with hope of finding them and next opposed attempts to erase the truth about the crime. A sequence of pictures is arranged into a mosaic of post-war attitudes to the Katyń crime. Andrzej Wajda also found room in it for a native Antigone and for the alter ego of his hero Maciek Chełmicki of Ashes and Diamonds.