“The Pianist” Featured in Jewish Cultural Weekend

Representing a turning point in the history of Jewish culture, “The Pianist,” directed by Roman Polanski, centers on the life of a famous pianist in Poland during World War II. Sponsored by the Jewish Student Union, the film was shown in Kemper auditorium, in advance of a campus visit from actress Jessica Kate Meyer. Meyer plays Szpilman’s sister Halina in the movie and is visiting Andover next Friday and Saturday night for Jewish Cultural weekend, which is the 28th to 31st of January. The film begins with the movie’s protagonist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, playing the piano for a Polish radio station in Warsaw. On September 1st, 1939, the incoming Germans bomb the radio station. As he leaves the station, he is introduced to Dorota, a girl he immediately takes a liking to. He returns home to find his family packing their belongings, about to evacuate Poland. His brother, Henryk, played by Ed Stoppard, turns on the radio and hears that the United Kingdom and France have declared war on Nazi Germany. Following the invasion of Poland, the Szpliman family soon sees each of their rights being taken away. The film accurately represents the inequality Jews faced, during this war: Jews weren’t allowed to keep more than two thousand dollars, to walk on sidewalks, to eat at restaurants, and to stroll in the park. They were forced to wear white armbands with blue stars of David on their right arms at all times. In contrast to the disturbing prejudice depicted in the film, “The Pianist” also incorporates a romantic perspective between protagonist Szpilman and his love, Dorota. As Szpilman and other Jews were being forced into Warsaw Ghetto, in 1940, Szpilman shares a tender moment with Dorota as he walks through the streets with his family and all of his possessions as he departs for his new and isolated future. The film accurately portrays the oppression in the Jewish ghetto by detailing the Szpilman family’s struggle to obtain a job. Szpilman resorts to playing the piano at a local restaurant, and his brother and sisters sell books in the street. In representing the moral conflict of working against their religion, Szpilman and Henryk must decide if they will continue to fight for their beliefs or join the other side. The two find an old friend, who has become an officer of the Jewish Ghetto Police. He asks them to join, but they both refuse, claiming that they would not be able to abuse other Jews. Although a reserved character at the beginning of the movie, Szpilman later becomes rebellious man eager to end the war, even if it means risking his life. He becomes emaciated and tough, losing the suave he once embodied, as musician, though he never forgets the piano. In one of his last attempts to contact old friends, Szpilman tries to track down his old coworkers from the radio station. When he concludes his search at an old apartment building, he is shocked to find Dorota, pregnant and married to the man who is about to hide him. They exchange a few words before Dorota’s husband arrives, but don’t rekindle their love as Szpilman is moved, in the morning, to a new hiding place: an apartment near a German Hospital. Reviving the musical aspect of the film, Szpilman’s new hiding place has a piano, but seemingly distraught by his circumstance, he cannot bring himself to play it. He sits over it and moves his fingers above the keys like the musician he was, at the beginning of the film. Szpilman spends many months in the apartment, suffering from jaundice and malnutrition, until a German war tank shells the apartment he is living in. He barely escapes, lucky to have his life, and wanders the completely desecrated city alone. An unknown amount of time passes as Szpilman searches the destroyed city of Warsaw for civilization and food. It seems as if he is the only person in the entire city, and as each day passes his chances of living are diminished. Barely able to walk, it is amazing that he has survived, and yet behind the craziness in his eyes he is still composed and faithful that he will remain alive. The film represents the renewal of hope for survival by Szpilman’s rediscovery of the piano. One day, while opening a can of pickles in an empty house, he meets a captain of the Wehrmacht, Wilm Hosenfeld, played by Thomas Kretschmann. The captain asks Szpilman for his occupation, and when he discovers that Szpilman is a pianist, leads him to a piano and asks him to play. He lets Szpilman remain hiding in the attic, and brings him food regularly, keeping him alive. The Germans soon are forced to withdraw, but before leaving, Hosenfeld asks Szpilman for his name and gives him the captain jacket to wear. The unlikely hero in the story, Captain Hosenfeld shows that although all Nazis seemed heartless, there were still a few good souls that would risk their lives to save one of another. In the final scenes of the film, the Russians liberate the city, and Szpilman rushes into the street, and is shot at because he is wearing the German jacket. After finally convincing them that he is Polish, the Russians take him to freedom. Meanwhile, as newly freed prisoners of concentration camps walk home, a violinist who used to play on Szpilman’s radio show encounters Hosenfeld, trapped in a Soviet prisoner camp. Hosenfeld asks him to contact Szpilman, but when the two men return, it is too late to save the captain. Having survived the darkest period in European history, the movie concludes with Szpilman playing a concert for a large audience in Warsaw. “The Pianist” is a touching story of hope despite the vast problems Jews were forced to face during World War II. Szpilman survived the war with luck and perseverance but will always remember witnessing his friends and family members become extinguished by the Nazis. “The Pianist” exemplifies the emotional and traumatizing aspects of Jewish prosecution during World War II but allows the audience to find a deep connection to the great fight Szpilman portrayed throughout the film.