The 1940 massacre by the Soviets of some 15,000 Polish Army officers at Katyn, Russia, reps the hub from which spokes of drama emanate in the WWII epic Katyn. First work in five years by Andrzej Wajda, Polish cinema's leading eminence grise, doesn't feel like the personal project one might expect from the son of one slain at Katyn. Instead, this plays almost like an academic master class, meticulously exploring the event's ramifications but only catching full fire at the end. Foreign-language film Oscar nominee did boffo biz domestically last year, and should make a victory lap around arthouses offshore.
Returning to the WWII period of the director's outstanding early trilogy of Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds, current pic assumes a typically Wadja-esque dispassionate stance toward the heroes and villains of history. Wadja himself lost his own father in the Katyn massacre at age 14 and lived through the years of Nazi occupation, Soviet repression and unrest as the Solidarity movement led to Poland's eventual transition to a free-market economy.
Wajda is now a mentor to a new generation of Polish filmmakers, and his interpretation of one of the key tragedies of Polish history takes on for domestic auds the stature of words from a prophet. It's in this context that one should understand Katyn's local success, reaping more than $14 million on theatrical receipts alone.
Pic's criss-crossing storylines sympathetically unfold a full spectrum of experiences of those who lived and died during the period covered.
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