Roman Polanski, the highly acclaimed director of “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby,” brings us a new film about the horrors the Polish Jews of Warsaw experienced during Hitler’s campaign through Europe. We follow a young Jewish pianist from the first invasion of Warsaw in 1939 into the times of punishing all Nazi’s for war-crimes as the Russians liberated Poland.
This story comes from the autobiography of a Polish pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman. This is a Jew who avoided the Nazi death camps as his family was pulled from him and managed to elude the Nazi Gestapo while hiding out near the Warsaw ghettos.
The film begins with Szpilman playing on a Polish radio station as the Germans begin their bombing raid on the Poland capital. He insists on finishing his piece, but finally is bombed to the point of retreat. We begin to see the progression of the Nazi rule as the “governor” starts putting new laws and decrees into effect one by one. First, the Jews must be “branded” with a band on their arm. Then they must abide by ridiculous rules, such as no Jews in the park or sitting on benches in the streets. From here the governor decrees that all Jews must live inside the designated areas that are later walled in and dubbed “The Ghetto.”
As history classes have taught us, the Nazis began cleaning out the ghettos and shipping the Jews to “labor” camps, but determined not to be taken, Szpilman embarks on a journey of human frailty, will to survive and self-exploration. He shows us parts of the ghetto and the ways of their lives that other Holocaust films fail to show.
Roman Polanski comes back with what I feel is his greatest work. He has the ability to not only see beauty but to capture it. There are moments when there is no dialogue, no action, and the only thing more beautiful than the piano music in the background is the spectacular direction by Polanski.
Adrien Brody, the young actor portraying Szpilman, I felt was doing a fine job but it wasn’t until the last twenty minutes of the film that I thought he actually earned the award nomination he received. There were moments when I thought the only thing that would hold the film up was the emotional storyline, the semi-fresh look at life in the ghettos of Nazi-occupied Warsaw and the directing. Eventually, Brody came through, which pleased me, but I still do not feel he delivered full force throughout the entire film. He earned a nomination but definitely not a statue.
This film, in all, is even more poignant and affecting than “Schindler’s List.” This rivals the greatest Holocaust stories ever told so it is fitting that it is one of five films nominated for Best Picture of 2002. Right down to the old woman in a green coat begging for news of her dead husband, this echoed the art and masterful direction of “Schindler’s List.” It is a captivating and heart-wrenching topic. This is not an entertaining, thrilling movie. Expected to be shown the horrors of the Holocaust and expect to be moved by the beautifully composed piano soundtrack and breathtaking shots set up by Polanski.
Starring: Adrien Brody, Maureen Lipman, Ed Stoppard, Thomas Kretschmann
Directed By: Roman Polanski
What You Need To Know: even more poignant and affected than “Schindler’s List.”
Final Grade: B+