Wladyslaw Szpilman is playing a recital for Polish radio on Aug. 1, 1939. He continues as the first bombs of the invading Nazis rock the studio. He quits only when the station is knocked off air.
This behavior, it turns out, is typical of Szpilman, on whose memoirs Roman Polanski, a survivor of Poland's wartime ghetto, has based his very good movie. Szpilman, portrayed with stoic grace by Adrien Brody, clings to every last shred of normality, despite confronting one of the great abnormalities in human history--the monstrous ghetto in which Warsaw's Jews were brutally forced to live.
For a time, he finds work playing piano in a cafe. He barely escapes transport to a death camp. He becomes a slave laborer, then a fugitive, finally living in the ruins of a destroyed city. Always he maintains his silence. Never does he commit a heroic or rebellious act. His only obligation is to go on living, which is mostly a matter of chance, supplemented by his own cunning.
The Pianist is a raw, unblinking film. It teaches that in dire circumstances our only obligation is to our own survival; all else--culture, ideology, even love--is a dispensable luxury. We admire Szpilman for the way he embraces that pitiless truth. We admire this film for its harsh objectivity and refusal to seek our tears, our sympathies. --R.S