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Mon January 13, 2003
Except for "Charlotte Gray," I haven't recently seen a better depiction of the fatally flawed resistance against Germans than in this film.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
Jerzy Kosinski wrote of a boy escaping all over Europe from Nazi oppressors in his classic "Painted Bird," an alleged autobiography influenced by Roman Polanski's flight as a boy. Polanski's "The Pianist," based on a true story in the Warsaw ghetto in 1939, is also said to be autobiographical if you substitute "film director" for "pianist." Kosinski's dramatic situations, memorable right down to the lantern he carries everywhere, are tense and frenetic, even though he is frequently hiding. Polanski's Polish Jew Szpilman, a concert pianist, just hides, leaving only the powerful first third for the drama and character delineation-the rest is hiding and grubbing for food. Polanski's flight in Krakow and Warsaw helped Kosinski tell his story; Szpilman's autobiography helped Polanski tell "The Pianist" story.
In the first part of the film, Polanski shows us the family of the pianist in a state of quiet decline and denial while the Germans overtake Warsaw and move Jews to the ghetto and eventually "work" camps. Szpilman's brother is fiery and irresponsible but devoted to overthrowing the Nazis. By contrast, Szpilman passively allows others to save him, usually due to his acclaim as a classical pianist. That he plays Chopin beautifully attests to why he should be revered and maybe saved. Yet, Polanski may inadvertently show him to be self-centered when he lets others take great risks to save him, when he watches from his safe window fellow Jews of the resistance being slaughtered, and when he does not fully join the resistance. Or Polanski may be expressing the anguish and self-loathing of one whose mother did not survive the gas chamber.
Except for "Charlotte Gray," I haven't recently seen a better depiction of the fatally flawed resistance against Germans than in this film. Polanski has done a credible job showing there was resistance at great peril and price. He also creates a bombed-out, ruined Warsaw that looks real enough to make the audience catch their breath.
Polanski also includes a Platonic admiration between Szpilman and the lovely wife of a friend and supporter-here Polanski is at his "Chinatown" best showing the heartache and natural shocks fortune visits on lovers in war(Think also of Rick and Ilsa in "Casablanca").
By the end, Szpilman is looking more like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away" than Arthur Rubenstein. The hero is back where he started; I hope the world has progressed beyond that.
John DeSando vice-chairs the board of The Film Council of Greater Columbus and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org on Thursdays at 8:01 pm and Fridays at 3:01 pm.