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The Holocaust: The Pianist

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In this adaptation of the autobiography "The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945," Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jewish radio station pianist, sees Warsaw change gradually as World War II begins. Szpilman is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto, but is later separated from his family during Operation Reinhard. From this time until the concentration camp prisoners are released, Szpilman hides in various locations among the ruins of Warsaw.

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The title is an understatement, and so is the film. Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" tells the story of a Polish Jew, a classical musician, who survived the Holocaust through stoicism and good luck. This is not a thriller, and avoids any temptation to crank up suspense or sentiment; it is the pianist's witness to what he saw and what happened to him. That he survived was not a victory when all whom he loved died; Polanski, in talking about his own experiences, has said that the death of his mother in the gas chambers remains so hurtful that only his own death will bring closure.The film is based on the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was playing Chopin on a Warsaw radio station when the first German bombs fell. Szpilman's family was prosperous and seemingly secure, and his immediate reaction was, "I'm not going anywhere." We watch as the Nazi noose tightens. His family takes heart from reports that England and France have declared war; surely the Nazis will soon be defeated and life will return to normal. It does not. The city's Jews are forced to give up their possessions and move to the Warsaw ghetto, and there is a somber shot of a brick wall being built to enclose it. A Jewish police force is formed to enforce Nazi regulations, and Szpilman is offered a place on it; he refuses, but a good friend, who joins, later saves his life by taking him off a train bound for the death camps. Then the movie tells the long and incredible story of how Szpilman survived the war by hiding in Warsaw, with help from the Polish resistance. Szpilman is played in the film by Adrien Brody, who is more gaunt and resourceless than in Ken Loach's "Bread And Roses" (2000), where he played a cocky Los Angeles union organizer. We sense that his Szpilman is a man who came early and seriously to music, knows he is good, and has a certain aloofness to life around him. More than once we hear him reassuring others that everything will turn out all right; this faith is based not on information or even optimism, but essentially on his belief that, for anyone who plays the piano as well as he does, it must. Polanski himself is a Holocaust survivor, saved at one point when his father pushed him through the barbed wire of a camp. He wandered Krakow and Warsaw, a frightened child, cared for by the kindness of strangers. His own survival (and that of his father) are in a sense as random as Szpilman's, which is perhaps why he was attracted to this story. Steven Spielberg tried to enlist him to direct "Schindler's List," but he refused, perhaps because Schindler's story involved a man who deliberately set out to frustrate the Holocaust, while from personal experience Polanski knew that fate and chance played an inexplicable role in most survivals.

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On balance, the film did try to stay away from the controversies that emerged after the death of Szpilman in 2000. The film was essentially an adaptation of the history of Szpilman and it was based on his autobiography. Yet, a Polish singer Wiera Gran went on to claim that her life was threatened on a few occasions due to Szpilman teaming up with the Germans. Gran claimed that the flim did not show incidents when Szpilman was collaborating with the Gestapo in order to kill several other Jews across the Polish capital. Szpilman’s son has consistently denied those rumours, while several others who spent time with Szpilman during his efforts to survive from the German invasion and Holocaust also claimed that there was little truth in those rumours. Irrespective of the few issues that surround the Jewish celebrity, The Pianist provided an excellent glimpse into the life of an outstanding personality at the height of Holocaust. It still remains as one of the finest movies that show the horrors of Holocaust. This film is considered as a tribute to Szpilman’s survival.

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The Holocaust: The Pianist
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