Socialist Worker

Ghetto film hits all the key notes

by Richard McEwan
Issue No. 1835

THE PIANIST is based on the account by Wladyslaw Szpilman, an accomplished pianist, of his survival of the Warsaw Ghetto. When the Nazis invaded Warsaw in September 1939, 360,000 of the city's one million population were Jewish.

By the time the Nazis retreated in January 1945 only 20 Jews were left alive. This film, directed by Roman Polanski, follows Szpilman and his family from the invasion of Poland in 1939 through their descent into segregation and life in the ghetto.

Polanski shows how the Nazis threw the Jews into the ghetto. The family tries to come to terms with the unfolding nightmare. The film shows the arbitrary brutality of the Nazis and the horrific conditions in the ghetto.

This is shocking, and sudden and final in a way that I have never seen in a film about the Holocaust before. Adrien Brody (the actor playing Szpilman) offsets this in the subtlety of emotion and depth of character he brings to Szpilman. We see many personal and collective signs of resistance in this film, such as Szpilman hiding guns for the heroic ghetto resistance.

He escapes the ghetto and 'resettlement' to Treblinka (a death camp) after being saved by one of the ghetto's Jewish police officers. The rest of his family is sent to be exterminated. But the turning point of the film, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising where 40,000 insurgent Jews held off the Nazis for almost a month with few weapons, is watched from a distance.

Though Polanski does not ignore its significance, it is understated. But Polanski's finale is a magnificent statement about humanity.

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Sat 25 Jan 2003, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1835
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