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Movie Review: "The Pianist"


Not since "Schindler's List", which was on the topic of Holocaust horrors, have I been as deeply affected by a film.

The movie is the autobiographical story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish concert pianist in Poland, whose family, as were so many families, was wiped out during the Germans' merciless occupation of Poland, and subsequent move of Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto, and later to concentration camps.

Directed by Roman Polanski, himself a Holocaust survivor, the film is relentless -- it begins with Szpilman playing Chopin on Polish radio, as the first German bombs are going off. Some other Holocaust films, notably "Schindler's List" and the TV miniseries "Holocaust", show some signs of hope. Not here. Every scene shows the descent into which Warsaw Jews were plunged. Szpilman's survival is more a matter of luck than anything else; at one point he survives the trains to the concentration camps simply because a friend of his, one of the Jewish "policemen" hired by the Nazis to keep order, pulls him out of line. There are other similar chance or lucky breaks for him, including an incredible scene near the end of the film involving piano playing, which I otherwise won't spoil here.

This is difficult material; it both absorbs and horrifies, but it is a must-see, because the horrors of the Holocaust must never be forgotten. Szpilman does survive, and that's not a spoiler, because obviously if he didn't, we wouldn't have his story to tell. He lived until 2000, in Warsaw, going back to become a concert pianist again after the war.

Adrien Brody is incredible and totally believable as Szpilman, and if you do check out Szpilman's website, you'll see he bears more than a passing resemblance. Though this is Brody's first major film role, he's up for Best Actor, and though he's got formidable competition, I could see the Academy honoring him, as well as Polanski, whose career has been checkered with his statutory rape conviction, but who has made the film of his, or maybe anyone's, career here.

Don't miss this important film.

AYRating: ****