Saturday, July 26, 2003

MOVIE REVIEW: The Pianist, 2002

The movie, The Pianist, is the true retelling of the escape of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew in Warsaw, from the complete cruelty of the Holocaust. It is a poignant telling of the story. The movie begins in 1939 with the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto, in the opening scenes of intermitant german bombing Szpilman's family is listening to a BBC radio broadcast announcing England's declaration of War on Germany...

"... Poland is no longer alone..."

The Director (Roman Polanski) manages to well portray that the Polish people were far from understanding how terrible the war would be, and just how alone they truly would be. As the Germans begin their campaign against the Polish Jewry Polanski outlines the terror - unleashed in a way that is so raw, so nonsensical, so absolute, that it is hard to make your self watch it. I am thinking of one scene, the horror... late at night, for no real apparent reason, German Soldiers run into the Ghetto, up three flights of stairs and enter a seemingly randomly selected unit of a large family having their dinner. They are all commanded to stand. At the head of the table, the grandfather sits in a wheel chair, unable to stand. He is commanded one more time, and as he struggles to pull himself to his feet, two german soldiers pick him up in his wheel chair, throw him out the window, and leave.

But truly Polanski's greatest achievements come near the end of the movie, when the story becomes the story of humanity, of survival and of healing. Polanski brillantly uses the absence of sound during this time, no background soundtrack, no surpluvious sounds for the entire time that Szpilman is alone in hiding. It is uncomfortable for the audience, who may mistake it for boredom intially, but realize that there is no sound beyond what Szpilman hears. And he is alone for a long time.

Eventually Szpilman is discovered by a High Ranking German Officer who, instead of killing him asks him to play the Piano. The reintroduction of sound here is sharp and purposely dramatic. As the notes rise and fall with crescendo the music tells the story - a vast array of emotions all of a sudden expressed across a barren landscape of despair. The two people are caught forever in this moment together.

It was as if the World needed to hear music again.

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