February 15, 2008 / 1:04 PM / in 10 years

Polish director Wajda bids farewell to war films

<p>Polish Director Andrzej Wajda poses during the photocall to present his film 'Katyn' at the 58th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, February 15, 2008. The 58th Berlinale, one of the world's most prestigious film festivals, runs from February 7 to 17 in the German capital. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>

BERLIN (Reuters) - Veteran director Andrzej Wajda said on Friday he had made enough films about war and his native Poland’s past and would turn to modern themes instead.

The 81-year-old was in Berlin to present the Oscar-nominated “Katyn,” a powerful, grim film about 15,000 Polish officers and professionals, including his own father, who were massacred by Soviet secret police in 1940.

“I do not want to return to this subject any more,” Wajda told reporters after a press screening of “Katyn,” which has already been a box office hit in Poland.

“I‘m an old man now and I’d like to make a more modern, contemporary film. I think there are strange changes taking place within societies and individuals,” he added, giving as an example how so many Poles had left since Communism collapsed.

“I would now like to conclude that chapter in my career.”

For Wajda, “Katyn” was an intensely personal film because his father, Captain Jakub Wajda, was among the Poles executed in the forest of Katyn, near Smolensk in Western Russia. The event is still a sensitive subject in Poland today.

Although Wajda did not want the film to be seen as a vigil, the central female character was also similar to his mother, who never fully believed that her husband was gone.

“Right up to 1950, when she died, she simply did not believe my father would not return from the war,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.

TWO VERSIONS

The film follows Andrzej, a captain in the Polish army, who is captured by the Soviets when they invade with Germany’s blessing in 1939. His wife, Anna, and her daughter refuse to give up hope until they know his fate for sure.

It also shows how the Germans used the atrocity as propaganda against the Soviets later in the war when the alliance split and how the Soviets later re-wrote history and blamed the Nazis.

Anyone who refused to accept the revised version of events, which put the date of the murders at 1941, could be detained. Only in 1990 did the Soviet Union admit its responsibility.

“For many years it wasn’t possible to make this film, until the collapse of Communism,” said Wajda, also renowned for his 1950s war trilogy including “Kanal.”

“This was the biggest and best kept secret that existed,” he added. “I didn’t believe I would see the day that there was no more Soviet Union. This is an elegy, a film of mourning.”

Wajda said he wanted people who had not experienced the horrors portrayed in the film to remember the images they saw.

“It’s simply not possible to look forward without thinking about the past,” he said.

The director, who has won an honorary Oscar, meticulously reconstructs how the Poles were systematically rounded up, transported, checked off lists, taken to cells or mass graves, tied up and shot once in the back of the head.

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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