The pianist is a 2002 epic biography of Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman, holocaust survivor.
The story is set in Warsaw, Poland 1936, with a starting frame of a busy street of Warsaw yet there is happiness and tranquility amongst the natives.
The movie follows the journey of Polish pianist Wadysaw Szpilman from opulence to squalor, telling his side of the tale of what the Holocaust did to him and his homeland – from the piano’s lovely melodies to the explosives’ bam-boom whistling of bombs. At that juncture, Jews in Warsaw commenced to be branded.
The film effectively conveys the level of anti-Semitism held by the Nazi Germans by slapping Jews for sharing pavement with other Germans, barring Jews from opulent public spaces and mandating people to wear hand bands on their arms featuring the blue star of the Jewish people so that they can be clearly distinguished.
Jews have kept a low profile thus far, when London and France have declared war, though the transmitted news has given them hope for a better tomorrow.
But 31st Oct 1940 shifted the Jews to a hostile location; the start of the Jews in Poland’s most tragic chapter in history. Their houses and birthplaces are taken from them, leaving them to fend for themselves on potatoes in a ghetto of Warsaw.
Major turning point in the plot takes place when the director decides to let the viewers know that the darkest period for the Jews have neared when Szpilman and his family witnesses his neighbours getting shot through the window and also an old man on a wheelchair is thrown from the balcony.
1942: Excavation from the Ghetto houses to the concentration camp
The only sounds in the dorm room were gunshots and the members’ sobbing for their bereaved relatives. Szpilman is temporarily removed from danger when he is separated from his family during the transition from the first camp to the remote camp, where the family is sent.
Szpilman is lost in his recollections when he runs into a familiar face who drives him to a construction site where wealthy Germans are working in the mainstream markets.
He gets lucky when he meets with an old German friend who provides him with safety, good food and new location, until 1943, when the next tragedy bombs into his life.
Szpilman observes the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt from his window as it develops and ultimately fails. He assisted it! Szpilman is forced to leave the apartment after a neighbour discovers him there, where the Germans were seriously victimized by the propaganda.
He is forced to be quiet despite the piano being in the new room, and he starts to suffer from jaundice.
1944: Szpilman is forced to flee due to a severe uprising
He was all by himself; he survived on tap water on the run. He was scrambling to shelters. On the run he finds a bottle of pickled cucumbers, and as he fumbles to open the cane; a Wehrmacht officer notices him. When he recognizes Szpilman, he asks him to play a piece on a piano, which he had acquired after a protracted battle with living in dread – and he uses it to express his desperation. Then the officer provides him a safer shelter, where he wouldn’t have to wake up regularly to check his safety and have a regular supply of food.
1945: Succeeding the war and Nazi Germany is overthrown; Jews are freed
Szpilman receives a substantial amount of food and a Wehrmacht officer’s coat to keep warm before departing Szpilman, and the Nazi Germans are transported to the concentration camp, where even a Wehrmacht officer is taken.
Will the officer Wehrmacht receive mercy since he went out of his way to help Szpilman get through the challenging duration?
The film is by Roman Polanski, who himself is a holocaust survivor.
When the biographical version was initially released in 1990, Polanski became passionate about it. He worked on the movie to depict how the holocaust was seen through the eyes of a survivor, rather than to portray the triumph of Szpilman.
Several noteworthy sequences in the movie that vividly depicted an event:
Polanski has captured the idea of a typical Jew through their traditional physical traits including a long, hooked nose, deep eyes that are well-set, and entrepreneurial prowess perfectly.
The scene where splendour stem Szpilman’s pitiful reaction as he watched the deplorable members of the co-community playing and teasing with the German police officers without realising the awful fate that would soon befall them. They were so innocently being themselves, thinking that this was the worst torture and that it would end between a brick wall and nothing else would ever happen.
As seen in the film, the majority of the Nazi police adopted Hitler’s style, complete with a clipped moustache on both ends.
Polanksi has recollected the miserability of Jewish children very well from his traumatizing memories where “rather to being tortured by the Nazi men, many vulnerable children would prefer diving into a public sewer filled with Jewish men’s excrement”
And then the question arises: Was Szpilman’s struggle for survival truly a triumph given that no one in his family was spared during the Holocaust?
He also had to say goodbye to the kind man who had shown him mercy, also dealing with the difficult realisation that his beloved mother was tortured and killed in a gas chamber.