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  Film Reviews: Why Film Was Invented: The Pianist  

Wednesday, February 26
Why Film Was Invented: The Pianist
Roman Polanski is perhaps more infamous in the United States as the widower of Sharon Tate and for his guilty plea for statutory rape in the seventies. The latter led to the threat of a draconian 50-year sentence – Polanski decided to leave the country.

I imagine that few people immediately said, “oh, he’s the guy that directed ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘Tess’” when asked what they knew about Roman Polanski.

Well, after “The Pianist,” I can’t imagine people not remembering that he’s a brilliant director. (For the record, the woman involved in the charge is a happily married mother of three that harbors no ill feelings towards Mr. Polanski.)

The Pianist is the true story of Wladyslaw Spzilman, a Polish pianist of considerable talent. Spzilman should have been remembered for his passionate interpretation of Chopin, but circumstance did not hold such a simple life for him. It was the unfortunate luck of being a Jew at a time when Nazis were taking over Poland that would not allow him to simply be an excellent pianist.

“The Pianist” is at its best in documenting the small actions that eventually lead to the grand sweeps that we’re taught about The Holocaust. If we went to good schools, we’re aware of the relocations, we’re aware of the ghettos, we’re aware of the concentration camps and we’re aware that there were some survivors. But even in the best schools, it is finding the details in these sweeps that become difficult. Polanski’s films detail the tiny steps that make up the broad sweeps while telling the compelling story of a man that should simply have been famous for playing Chopin.

Spzilman’s story is different in that it is not so much about an active defying of the odds in order to survive. It is simply the story that was the story of so many other people – one that depends largely on circumstance, luck, opportunity and the ability to recognize that things have aligned for the slightest moment in time. This is not an uncommon story, but is one that is very difficult to tell.

“The Pianist” is most brilliant when it seems that Spzilman does not understand the true nature of the world around him. When a café prominently displays a “No Jews” sign, he proclaims that standing on the street is perfectly fine. As more restrictions are placed upon he and his family, Spzilman appears to go along with each, convinced that each restriction will be the last. In the ghetto, Spzilman obtains a job in a restaurant playing the piano – again seemingly convinced that this is the worst of it all. Event after event unfolds like this for Spzilman, and it is only once the trains begin to leave and he is spared by an impulsive act that the gravity of his situation begins to take shape. For the reset of the film, it is Spzilman in small, desperate moves and compromises that his desire to survive takes shape. Even within the confines of these acts, there are still acts of pure luck (good and bad) that seem to take over where one might expect to see a story of sheer will.

The Usual:

What It’s Worth: Full-price admission.

Annoying Theater Goer: Nap-man sitting right behind us. A simple request to those with loved ones that like to take naps at specific times of the day – DON’T expect them to stay awake just because you’ve decided to go to the movies. He will still fall asleep and he will still snore. Naptime is apparently followed by the need to chat endlessly.

Main Reason To See This Film: While there are many small stories yet to be told about the Holocaust, it’s victims, it’s villains and it’s survivors – this is the film that you will always look back at this film as the one that did it the best.

Main Reason Not To See This Film: You’re impatient and decide that the slow pacing of the film is, well, slow.

Rating: R

Nudity: No.

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