Katyn (2007)

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Released 29-Oct-2009

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Interviews-Crew-Director Andrzej Wajda (49.35)
Featurette-Making Of-(27.02)
Featurette-Polish Premiere (25.52)
Theatrical Trailer-(1.47)
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2007
Running Time 117:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Andrzej Wajda
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Andrzej Chyra
Maja Ostaszewska
Artur Zmijewski
Danuta Stenka
Jan Englert
Magdalena Cielecka
Agnieszka Glinska
Pawel Malaszynski
Maja Komorowska
Wladyslaw Kowalski
Antoni Pawlicki
Agnieszka Kawiorska
Sergey Garmash
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI ? Music Krzysztof Penderecki


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Polish Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Was there a nation, a people, more devastated by the Second World War than Poland and the brave Poles? After all, they were there on 1 September 1939 when the Nazi jackboot crossed the border. They were there when Warsaw was turned into half ghetto half city. They saw the horrors of the extermination camps in their backyards. They were abandoned by the West when the Warsaw Uprising began and they were forced to challenge the Germans alone. They lost 1 out of every 5 citizens to the oppressors and, finally, saw Himmler almost make good on his threat of total destruction of Warsaw: The city must completely disappear from the surface of the earth and serve only as a transport station for the Wehrmacht. No stone can remain standing. Every building must be razed to its foundation.

It can therefore be little surprise that the massacre at Katyn has not assumed the significance it deserves amongst the most heinous war crimes. For years it was a political hot potato passed between axis and allies - each trying to blame the other for the mass murder of over 20,000 Polish officers and civilians. The Germans blamed the evil Soviets and used the discovery of the mass graves as a wedge to divide the Bolsheviks from the Western allies. The Russians blamed the Germans, who were certainly up for mass murder, and went to the trouble of conducting show trials of the guilty Huns.

Only in 1990 did Russia formally admit that they - oops sorry! - had been behind the murders.

There is no-one better to tell the story of Katyn that Polish director Andrej Wajda. For one he is an established chronicler of his countries' woes - see the recent release of a box set of his War Trilogy. Secondly, his father was one of the officers killed at Katyn. Perhaps the greatest surprise is that he came to the film so late in his career.

The answer to the above question is, in fact, a simple one. In the extra features which accompany this DVD Wadja explains that Poland was not ready to see the film until now - it was a dark part of history that no one wanted to recall. In telling the Katyn story Wajda deliberately changed the names of the characters to avoid any audience member identifying a long-lost loved one. This does not diminish the power of the story.

In approaching the Katyn story Wajda faced a number of tough choices. Does he make a full-on horror story about the massacre or a political tale about betrayal and heartbreak. In fact, he has skilfully combined the two stories. Young officer Andrej (Artur Zmijewski) is, like so many of his fellow soldiers taken prisoner at the beginning of the war. His wife Anna (Maja Ostazewska) and young daughter travel across the country to find him. In a sadly ironic moment he refuses to try to escape the lax custody because he owes a duty to his captors and to the Polish Army as an officer! Anna has to return to the city with their daughter living amongst Andrej's worried parents. Soon they have their own reasons to be concerned. In a lightning operation the Germans shut down the universities and colleges arresting Andrej's father and sending him to a concentration camp.

Katyn moves between the two stories - one of the privations of confinement and one of the eternal stress of not knowing the whereabouts of the loved ones. Once the dreaded Katyn List is published detailing the dead the film becomes an examination of the country after the tragedy. Both the Germans and the Russians went to great pains to blame the other for the massacre and the people were drawn into the deceit. This drama is played out in the form of Jerzy (Andrezj Chira) a friend of Andrej who, after surviving the massacre, become an officer in the post-war Communist controlled Peoples Army of Poland. Wajda mines a rich seam of despair in the film finding sympathy in the plight of the dead, those left behind, even those who turned to the side of the murderers. In the final minutes of the film Wajda brings home the reality of the massacre in a way that is both heart-wrenching and spellbinding.

Katyn was nominated for the Best Foreign language Film Oscar last year. It is a complex and detailed drama which ought to appeal even to those who are not enamoured of war films. The performances are uniformly good and Wajda resists the temptation to simplify the characters into heroes and villains, although both the Russians and the Germans are pretty villainous. The historical intricacies might leave some confused but the film works as a drama as well as an historically accurate tale.

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Transfer Quality

Video

   Katyn was shot on Super 35mm film and projected at a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately the version released by Umbrella Entertainment in this Region is presented in a standard widescreen 1.77:1 ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

The technically minded can debate the extent to which the different aspect ratio compromises the directors vision. Super 35mm generally actually allows for more image by opening up the frame. On this occasion, however, it appears from some screenshots I have observed and matched that the film has been cropped from the original aspect ratio.

The print is clean and clear of artefacts. The level of grain is light. The colours are stable albeit dominated by greys and dull greens. The flesh tones are accurate.

Although the film is placed on a dual layer DVD there was some evidence of compression issues throughout although not serious enough to be annoying.

There are subtitles in English. However as the film is in Polish whenever Russian or German is spoken (and not translated) there are two sets of subtitles on the screen filling up the valuable real estate.

In short the transfer is acceptable, even good in parts, but not as good as it could have been.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sound for Katyn is Polish Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 448 Kb/s.

The sound is pretty good throughout. The dialogue can be heard clearly and the sound of jackboots on wooden floors is clear and crisp. There is not a lot for the surrounds to do and the sub-woofer is only rarely engaged.

The actors appear to be in audio sync.

The soundtrack is by legendary Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. The score is lush and dramatic and ideally suits the film.

There are no technical problems with the sound.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

There are some excellent extras included with the film. They are all, as you might expect, all in Polish but there is good subtitling throughout.

Andrzej Wajda Interviewed on the Set of Katyn

This lengthy interview takes us through the history of the film and his eventual desire to make a film reflecting "the crime and the lie". Wajda is an eloquent speaker and this is the best featurette on offer to explain and illuminate the film.

Making of Katyn

This is truly "on the set". This feature gives key cast members and crew members an opportunity to talk about the importance of the film to them and the extraordinary level of effort and detail that went into the making of the film. Even the make-up designer and the costume designer are given their pause to reflect.

Polish Premiere

A couple of Polish TV celebrities attend the premiere of the film and interview the director and the cast. A moving occasion.

Theatrical Trailer

A powerful trailer for a powerful film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

  Katyn is available in Region 1 as well as a Polish version. The Region 1 transfer is also cropped so the Region 4 is still ahead on local preferences. Real fans should probably await a Blu-ray version.

Summary

    Katyn is a film of unmistakeable power. It is a film that obviously has far deeper resonance for the Polish people but the central drama will appeal to all people.

The transfer is intermittently fine but generally average, even leaving aside the cropping.

The extras do elevate the package somewhat.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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