Poland 1962, Anna is a young Catholic orphan about to enter her vows to become a Nun with the convert who has looked after her since she was a small child. However, before she takes her vows Anna’s Mother Superior forces Anna to meet her Aunt, Wanda, Anna’s only surviving relative. In a first strained meeting Anna is shocked to learn that she was not born a Catholic, but was born Jewish and her real name Ida Lebenstein. Ida/Anna and her Aunt return to Ida’s parents village to discover what happened to them during the Second World War.
This film has not really got much of an international acclaim to it, mostly because the film is Polish. I think it’s a pity that some great films filmed in non-English get so little attention in Hollywood on the international spotlight because they are not in English.
It’s shot completely in black and white in gives it a now very uncommon and old-fashioned screen ratio of 4:3. This set up in a way helps to make the film feel more like a fly on the wall documentary about a real Ida actually in search of her family’s history during the Holocaust. It is also interesting that the Holocaust is never once mentioned throughout this film but is built into the whole fabric of the film. Everyone where is empty, everyone is living a life half lived, everyone is coming through the motions but the whole atmosphere is thick, heavy and dense with loss.
My only gripe with this film is the subtitles. The film tends to shoot scenes lower down, with a lot of shoulder and head shots and a lot of scenery space filling the top half of the screen – a real 1960s vibe – however as I do not speak Polish, I need the subtitles. Sadly these subtitle are kept at the bottom, when really they should have been moved to the top to allow the actors to be more visible. I wish this attention to detail had been continued to the same degree as the director’s rigour for the rest of the film.
It truely is a work of art and very much deserved it’s Oscar and Bafta awards. It’s just a shame it doesn’t get as much attention and acclaim as it rightly should.
Warning: There are plot spoilers in this post.
Katyń is a 2007 Polish film about the Katyn Massacre and is available on Netflix (you can get it on Amazon here). It is based on the fictional story of the massacre as written in Post mortem by Andrzej Mularczyk, It centres around Anna (Maja Ostaszewska), wife of Andrzej (Artur Zmijewski)), and mother to Nika (Wiktoria Gąsiewska). In September, 1939 Anna and Nika are fleeing from the imposing Third Reich army as the race to find Anna’s husband. Andrzej is a Captain in the Polish Army and has been captured by the Soviety Army. Anna reunites with Andrzej and begs him to leave with her to safety – as the guards are paying very little attention. Andrzej refuses because he swore an oath of loyalty to the army. Anna leaves reluctantly with Nika.
Anna tries to flee to return to her family in Kraków but as she is in the Soviet block of Poland she cannot leave to the German block. Eventually she escapes and reunites with her husband’s parents. Andrzej’s father, a university academic is captured during the Sonderaktion Krakau and is deported to a concentration camp. Nazi broadcasts announce that Jerzy, a follow Captain Anna saw with her husband has been killed. Although not knowing about her husband’s death, Anna clings to the hope that no news is good news. In 1943, the Nazis begin to publish propaganda of the Russian massacre in Katyn.
Any hope for Anna that her husband would return to her is crushed when Jerzy returns after the war and informs Anna that he had given Andrzej a jumper with his name label in it, and that the body identified as himself, was that of her husband. Now the war is over and Poland is under the control of a pro-Soviet government…those in charge are quick to shift the blame of the massacre onto the Nazis. Jerzy, now a member of the People’s Army of Poland, repeats loudly and clearly that this was a Nazi massacre…even though he knows the truth. The Soviets struggle to maintain the lie as those who lost relatives in the massacre uncover the truth behind their loved one’s death.
This film was a little slow, interesting but slow. However one of the most beautiful scenes is when Anna receives the Andrzej’s diary which has been smuggled and kept hidden from the Russians. Anna begins to read the detailed account of her husband’s last days as the film re-enacts them for the viewer. It’s a very poignant end to a film where you as a viewer have been in the same situation as Anna, unknowing of the fate of Andrzej. I felt some scenes were left inexplicably unexplained – or at least built upon, in particular the death of Anna’s nephew Tadeusz (Antoni Pawlicki).