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The Big Break Review:
Roman Polanski’s The Pianist
A Story That Must Be Seen to Be Believed
by Sonny King

This is my pick for Best Film of 2002, and so far the BAFTA(UK) awards and French CESARs echo my view. Whether 'Oscar' agrees is another matter entirely, but miracles do happen from time to time.

One miracle that did happen several decades ago is encapsulated by this epic and very personal drama that goes beyond revealing the horrors of a time we all commonly refer to as ‘The Holocaust.’ It’s ‘epic’ in that it deals directly with the execution of Hitler's 'Final Solution' for the Jewish population of Warsaw, Poland, and ‘personal’ in that it specifically follows the travails of one man, a man who survived against all odds.

Adrian Brody (Harrison's Flowers) is perfectly cast as 'Wlady,' a brilliant classical pianist who is an anti-warrior—an artist. When he first appears in the opening of the film, you ask yourself, "how can he possibly survive the cruel judgement of the Nazi army?" But in this case, his humanity, reputation and a lot of luck prove to be stronger than military might.

Based on a true story, director Roman Polanski (Chinatown) weaves in some personal details from his own experiences as a Polish WWII emigre and creates the truest depiction of the horrors of war yet captured on film. It's these details that make this film different from all other Holocaust stories that have come before. And as fellow director Ingmar Bergman once said, "God is in the details."

Most astonishing is the duration of starvation and hiding that those few that did survive had to endure before help finally arrived. We forget that, for the Polish, the war started in the late '30s.

To remain alive, one had to spend year after year dodging German patrols and hoping that the British, or French, or finally the Russians would break through the German lines and finally free these innocent people from certain death. And as you sit there watching Wlady narrowly escape death over and over again, more questions come to mind, like ‘Why did it take so long? What kept the USA and its thousands of exiled Jews from coming to the rescue?’

Unanswered questions that add weight and dimension to the untold suffering of thousands of people trapped behind enemy lines, but this film gives you time to ponder those questions. The years pass as we watch Wlady move from ‘safehouse’ to hiding place to—incredibly—the headquarters of the enemy as they prepare for their last stand.

It’s an amazing film that deserves to be seen on the big screen, so don’t cheat yourself by waiting to watch it on video. Some stories shouldn’t be minimized by the size of your television and this is one of them. It's more than just a piece of history that shouldn’t and cannot be forgotten, it’s a story of humanity. And possibly the inhumanity of the role that our country played as ‘reluctant’ saviors that waited much too long to come to the rescue.

 

© 2005 BIGBreakNY, LLC. No material may be reprinted without permission.