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The Holocaust In The Pianist Essay

The Second World War was an international war that took place from 1939 to 1945, a lot of countries participated in the war (including the great powers) and formed two alliances: the Axis (Germany, Italy and Japan) and the Allies (the “Big Three Leaders” were the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Soviet Union). Poland was invaded by the Nazi Germany in 1939, and was defended by the Allies.

During the invasion of Poland, the Jews were persecuted, maltreated and deported to extermination camps. All these situations that the Jews had to experience during the Jewish Holocaust in the WWII are shown in the film The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2003) from the point of view of Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish Jew pianist that escapes and hides from the Nazis in order to survive. The movie is the witness of Szpilman so we can see what he saw and what happened to him.

In the film you can see how the life of the Jews change in a moment, our protagonist was playing the piano in a radio of Warsaw when suddenly German bombs started to fall, from this moment, his life and the life of many other Jews become a nightmare. Using the perspective of the protagonist, Polanski makes the viewer see how the Jews suffered and feel like one of them, so it is an interesting film to understand how the things happened.

The film was awarded the Palme d’Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, it won several Oscars for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor, and it also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and the BAFTA Award for Best Direction. In the beginning of the movie we can see in black and white some scenes of Warsaw during the 1939 before everything started, people are walking in the streets and everything is going fine, they would have never imagined what was going to happen.

After these images of peace, Polanski shows us how everything changes in a moment and we see Szpilman playing the piano on the radio in Warsaw while it’s being bombed, Warsaw is being invaded by the Nazi Germany. When the occupation of Warsaw starts, we can see how the discrimination against the Jews start: new policies say that Jews have to wear an armband to be easily recognized, they are not allowed to have more than 2000 zlotys in a house, to go into some bars or even to sit on public benches.

In one scene Szpilman’s father is walking on the sidewalk, and two German soldiers make fun of him and forbid him to walk on the sidewalk, forcing him to walk on the road. But this is only the beginning, because then the Jews are taken to the ghettos, where German soldiers make more fun of them. In one scene Jews are forced to dance because the German soldiers say so, and they make a lame person using crutches dance.

As the film moves forward, the conditions of the Jews in the ghettos get worse: they are starving, they have neither food nor drinks, and we can see dead bodies all over the ghetto. And as if this was not enough, soldiers were killing people and they didn’t care if they were old people or children. There are two scenes that I consider quite shocking, in one of them a boy is entering the ghetto through a hole because he went out to get some food, but he is caught by a soldier who kills him, and we see how this little boy dies in Szpilman’s hands.

The other scene is probably one of the most shocking scenes of the film, a family is sitting on the table having dinner, when the German soldiers appear and make them stand up, but there’s an old man in a wheelchair who cannot stand up, and the soldiers throw him through the balcony because he didn’t do what they said. In the film, when Jews are being taken to the extermination camp, Szpilman is saved by a police officer and starts escaping and hiding from the Nazis.

Thanks to some friends who are outside the ghetto he can escape and he stays in a house near the walls of the ghetto, from where he can see everything that is happening there. Through the point of view of Szpilman, we can see the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The use of this point of view allows us to see everything Szpilman sees, so the director can cause surprise because we don’t know what is going to happen to him and we are as worried as he is, because we don’t know if we can trust a character or not. The performance of Adrien Brody is brilliant.

He plays Szpilman with a sad face, with little hope to survive but still trying hard. The way he plays Szpilman is real, we can see through his interpretation his suffering, his uncertainty… The costumes and the makeup are excellent, we can see the difference between the beginning of the film, when Szpilman is playing the piano on the radio, he is well dressed and his hand are clean, but when everything changes, we see that most of the Jews are poor, they are dirty because the water they find they use it to drink, we can see thanks to the costumes they wear the conditions they were exposed to.

The clothes are also used to differentiate the Jews from the German soldiers and the people when they were outside the ghetto, because when everything was starting Jews were forced to wear an armband to differentiate from the others. The setting of the film is outstanding, we can see Warsaw perfectly recreated to reflect the bad conditions of the city occupied by the Nazi Germany. Maybe it is so well recreated because Polanski, as Szpilman, also suffered the persecutions by the Nazis during his childhood, when he was a child, he was taken to a concentration camp, and although he could escape, his parents died there.

He says that it was hard to work on a personal story like this, because he was seeing again all the images of a destroyed city, of the ghetto… but he knew that we wanted to direct a film about it, so he did it. This may be why the setting is so good and it looks so real. The lighting in the film is also important, there are a lot of dark scenes, especially in the ghetto, to symbolize the hard situation they were living. An important element in the film is the music, the film begins and ends with Szpilman playing the piano so this gives us a clue of how important the music is in the movie.

After these scenes and some other ones, the viewer ends associating the protagonist with the music. The music helps the protagonist to forget about his problems and it appears when everything seems to be better, for example, it appears in the scene where Szpilman feels safe in a new home while he is escaping, he sees a piano, and he starts moving his fingers as if he was playing the piano, then he gets lost in the music’s world, he stops thinking about everything for a moment.

Another scene where the music is important is where Szpilman is hiding in the ruins of Warsaw and a German officer finds him, the officer asks him what is his job and when he says he used to be a pianist, the officer asks him to play something, in this scene Szpilman doesn’t know if he can trust the officer and neither do we, so he is playing but he doesn’t know if he is going to die when he finishes, so during this song Polanski creates suspense, because we don’t know if the officer is going to help him.

When talking about the cinematography, the director uses medium shot and close-up shot to focus the attention of the viewer to a particular thing. Most times he uses these shots to make us see the characters’ faces, so that it’s easy to sympathize with them, he also uses these shots to focus on the hands of the pianist while he is playing the piano. In the first scene, when he is playing on the radio, the director uses close-up shot to show us his hands, clean, impeccable.

However, further on, when he is hiding under the ruins of Warsaw and the German officer finds him, the director uses close-up shot again while he is playing, but at this moment, his hands are not clean, they are dirty, dry, they show signs of suffering. Sometimes Polanski uses panorama shot, especially when he wants us to see the ruins of the city of Warsaw after the bombs, so we can appreciate the extent of the damage. Polanski uses continuity editing to present a coherent and a clear story, it helps him to create realism.

Although the film shows some brutal atrocities that occurred during the World War II, the ellipsis are also important, there are some things that are not shown, but clues are given to see what happened, for example, when Szpilman’s family and all the other Jews are put in a train, the police tells them that they are going to a better place where they can work, but we never see where are they taken, we only see how the train leaves and how a police officer says to a German officer that they are going to be burned.

The Pianist is not the only film that talks about the Holocaust, in Hollywood there are several films about this subject. For example the film Schindler’s list (Steven Spielberg, 1993), although both films are quite personal, because Spielberg’s family was Jewish and Polanski’s parents died in a concentration camp, and both films show the horrors of the Holocaust, Spielberg’s film wants to be more optimistic than Polanski’s film.

Another difference is the use images in black and white, Spielberg’s film is all in black and white, but Polanski’s film is in color, except the first scenes when everything in Warsaw is fine, Polanski said in an interview that he thought about filming in black and white, but that he finally didn’t do it because he realized it would be more natural if he used color.

Polanski did a great job with this film, he showed us what was like to be a Jew during the Holocaust and all the situations that they had to live. Thanks to the lighting, the costumes, the setting, the shots and the fact of presenting the story from the point of view of the protagonist, he causes an effect on the viewer who can feel what the Jews had to experience. All these techniques used by Polanski give more realism to the film.

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