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Anna checks the lists to see if her husband is dead or alive.

Anna checks the lists to see if her husband is dead or alive.

“Katyn” is a beautifully shot film, chronicling a chapter of World War II history that I don’t think many people know about.   I didn’t know about it, anyway.   “Katyn” doesn’t waste any time explaining either, perhaps because it was made in Poland, and I think if you’re Polish, nobody needs to explain the Katyn massacre to you.

But for the rest of us, here’s what it’s helpful to know:  In September 1939, just days after the Nazis invaded Poland from the south and west, the Soviets invaded from the east.   The Soviets took Polish officers and intellectuals as prisoners of war, and then executed them in the Katyn forest.   When the war was over, the Polish government, a puppet of the Soviets behind the Iron Curtain, blamed the massacre on the Nazis.   It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Soviet government admitted to the Katyn massacre.

“Katyn,”  the movie is about the massacre, but mostly it’s about the women, the children, the daughters and grandmothers that are left after their men have been shot and buried in the forest.   The plot isn’t too compelling –characters come and go, with a few more central than others.   Some cling to the truth, others cling to the party line, all in the name of survival.  There’s Anna (Maja Ostaszewskaho looks like Laura Dern,)  the wife of Andzrej, who is killed in the camp, though he is mistaken for another man on the lists.   That man is Jerzy, who joins the Soviet Secret Police after the War, until he’s had as much of the lies about the massacre as he can take.

Survival is really what “Katyn” is about.  Of course the massacre is at the middle of everything, but really it’s a movie about enduring, clinging to hope, listening to lists of names and hoping your man’s isn’t on it, and then it’s about deciding to cling to the truth — or letting the truth fall under the tracks of the tanks in the name of survival.

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