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Saturday, March 20, 2004


Starring Adrien Brody
Directed by Roman Polanski
Script adapted from Wladislaw Szpilman's Book
by Ronald Harwood

Another World War II movie to remind us of the atrocities committed against the Jews by the Nazis? Yep, and it's DAMN GOOD! Director Roman Polanski has finally found his way back onto the main highway after being lost for so many years, he must have pulled over to ask for directions. Thank God! This is a film directed by the director of Chinatown, and Rosemary's Baby, not the muddled crap of late, most notably Frantic or Bitter Moon. Welcome back, Mr. Polanski.

This dead-on and riveting piece of storytelling is based on the book by Polish Pianist Wladislaw Szpilman and chronicles his years of hiding during World War II. The story begins with the Szpilman family in Poland, 1939, just as the Nazis invade and commence with corralling all the Polish Jews into a small, walled off area that became known as the "Jewish Ghetto". It was basically a prison camp, where people were systematically starved, and randomly murdered by scumbag Nazis before they were then shipped off on cattle cars to lovely places like Auschwitz, to be further tortured, and finally gassed to death.

But this story focuses on Wladislaw Szpilman, an already well respected Pianist, played passionately by Adrien Brody, who received a well deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor (don't be surprised to see him pick it up this year). It's a very personal story, beginning inauspiciously enough in a recording studio where Wladislaw is in the middle of recording a piano piece. The studio is bombed but he doesn't stop playing until he is literally knocked off his chair by a blast, a great introduction to the kind of character we will spend nearly the next three hours with.

Moving on, we see the Szpilman family trying to adjust to the assinine and sinister rules being imposed upon them by the occupying Nazis. Jews are only allowed to keep a maximum of 2000 dollars in their homes, and they have 5000, so there's a great scene that introduces us to all the family members as they argue about how to hide the money, great writing, there.

Once the occupation is in full force, we see just how horrible living conditions have gotten in Poland. It's every man for himself, every child for himself. Wladislaw eventually ends up outside the ghetto, spending countless weeks, months, and even years basically hiding in apartments owned by friends, literally locked inside, unable to reveal himself, even to neighbors next door. One particular apartment even has a piano, but he can only sit and imagine playing it, because to play it would alert someone to his presence.

It does make your gut hurt, and it reminded me a bit of another great little movie called Europa Europa, about a young Jewish boy and his even more unbelievable tale of survival during Hitler's rampage through Europe. As in Spielberg's Schindler's List, Polanski's camera is unflinching, never blinking and unafraid, making it hard to watch sometimes, for even the most hardened moviegoer. But it's worth it.

Another element that I have been wondering about with regard to previous WW2 films is the following question: Did any Jews ever fight back? Well, this film does deal with that. And yes, some Jews did fight back, and it's depicted in this film. And there's even a Nazi (based on a real Nazi) who's not a complete load, just to humanize them just a little, and a little is all they deserve.

It's nearly three hours long, but feels like two, and it's great filmmaking, look for it to get something come Oscar time.

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