A national trauma on the order of Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the Little Bighorn all rolled into one, the Soviet Russian massacre of thousands of Polish officers during World War II has been well studied in history books and documentaries. It's hard to understand, then, what new perspective the eminent Polish director Andrzej Wajda (Man of Iron, Kanal, etc.) hoped to add to the subject. His own father, an officer, was one of the victims, so this is obviously a personal film. But it's also a sprawling, confusing, badly directed personal film. One family appears to be modeled on his own. How, why, and if they cross paths with other characters isn't terribly clear. It's hard to tell many characters apart. Years pass, but children don't age. The Nazis are bad, and the Reds are worse. And it takes way too long to get to the inevitable outcome. Only in its final, terrible moments does Katýn achieve a clarity of purpose—rendering the machinery of death in its every cog and detail. But then, not every creative work can be engineered so precisely as murder.
Poland is torn to pieces as WWII begins.
Runs at SIFF Cinema, Fri., May 15–Thurs., May 21. Not rated. 118 minutes.