During the early stages of the invasion of Poland the Nazis and the Soviets worked together, but as we all know that fell apart spectacularly after a while. When the massacre at Katyn was discovered they blamed each other with the alarming swiftness of a gigantic propaganda machine. Caught in the middle were the relatives of the victims, women and children, who were at one point or another asked to corroborate whichever version of the truth the dominating force was trying to sell at the time. So, the age-old adage that the first victim of any war is the truth is certainly apt here.
As for the historical quality of the narrative itself there is always a valid point in telling these kinds of stories, no matter who the victim is and who is the victor. Mind you, the victor writes the history, so it's always good to hear what the price of that was.
One thing struck me as particularly interesting. Much of the story is told through the women, the mother, the wife, the sister and the daughter of the massacre victims. That's an interesting take on it. Mostly women are conspicuously absent from these kinds of tales. But they are the ones left behind, in every sense of the word, when the invading forces set up shop. They are the ones who have to live in this brave new world and reconcile with their grief and their pain. Again the viewer is given examples of each strategy for survival. The general's wife falls apart in a very decorous way, Anna flees to her mother-in-law (Maja Komorowska) and stubbornly refuses to believe that her husband might be among the dead until she has irrefutable proof. Anna and Andrzej's daughter grows up expecting her father every time there is a knock at the door.
This is an intensely personal film for director Andrzej Wajda, who lost his own father at Katyn, but despite that, or perhaps because of it, it isn't a sentimental film. It keeps a cautious distance and tries to do that most difficult of things, i.e. showing instead of telling. The movie is also based on the novel Post Mortem: The Story of Katyn by Andrzej Mularczyk.
There's also the incredibly disturbing feeling that Poland during this time was suffering the fate of being like a bloody rag caught between two large dogs, tugging and chewing and pulling it every which way. It doesn't really matter if it is the Nazis or the NKVD who are tearing into it at the moment. Both are equally bad, as is shown when Nazi officers close down the university and arrest the entire faculty, shoving the dignified elder intellectuals out the doors and down the stairs at gunpoint and loading them into trucks. We all know nothing good can possibly happen to these gentlemen after that point.