Director Roman Polanski had much personal history to draw on, when he directed "The Pianist." He spent his own childhood in Poland, and escaped from the Krakow Ghetto, although his mother, and other family members, perished in the Holocaust. Polanski makes this his most personal and powerful film to date, and deservingly won the Academy Award Oscar for Best Director.
"The Pianist" is the agonizing story of Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's survival of the Nazi's destruction of Polish Jewry.
The film begins in 1939, with Szpilman playing Chopin on the piano for Radio Warsaw, as the Germans bomb the city, and finally force him to stop playing. History has documented well what happened in Warsaw over the following two years - the Jewish ghetto was constructed and settled, racial laws were written and enforced, people died of starvation, illness, or Nazi murder. Then the "resettlement" roundups began. Szpilman was waiting at the Umshagplatz to be deported to Treblinka, with his family, when fate seemingly intervened, and he was spared. His survival story is a different kind of hell than others that I have seen or read about. Szpilman watches the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and subsequent destruction, from the outside, looking in. Usually, accounts of the Jewish uprising are from former fighters, or survivors, who were inside the ghetto at the time. I can only wonder if Szpilman longed to join his fellow Jews and fight the Nazis, rather than remain in his solitary apartment overlooking the ghetto, with his own end unknown.
The story is told from a uniquely unsentimental point of view. I felt at times that Szpilman, brilliantly portrayed by Adrien Brody, had distanced himself from all emotion, except for the periods when he played the piano in his imagination, and listened to music in his head. Perhaps this detachment was the mechanism that allowed him to survive emotionally.
The well-written screenplay, by Ronald Harwood, was adapted from Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoirs published in 1946. During some of the movie's most emotional parts, there are amazing camera shots of snow falling, or leaves blowing across an empty street, or the snow covered ghetto ruins that look like the end of the world, with the only sound - Chopin's piano music. These film takes add emotion to the film, compensate for, and contrast well with Szpilman's emotional isolation.
There is a haunting scene, near the film's end, with Szpilman and a German officer, that still moves me to tears when I think about it.
The film is a remarkable in its sensitivity, and portrayal of one man's struggle to survive. I highly recommend it.