″Horrifyingly Close to the Truth″ | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 24.10.2002
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"Horrifyingly Close to the Truth"

Roman Polanski's semi-autobiographical film on the experience of a Jewish musician in the Warsaw Ghetto opens across Germany this week.


"The Pianist" is Polanski's biggest success in 30 years

"The Pianist" - winner of the coveted Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film festival this year - premiered in Berlin on Monday night.

The film, which focuses on the life of a Jewish musician in the Warsaw Ghetto, was shown at the city's Berliner Ensemble Theater in the presence of its director, 69-year-old Polish-born director Roman Polanski.

"That this film is being shown here, is a victory over Nazisim," Polanski said after the screening.

True story

"The Pianist" is the true story of the Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman's experiences and surival in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War and was adapted for screen from Szpilman's memoirs by British writer Ronald Harwood.

Szpilman - who is played by American actor, Adrien Brody in the film - is forced into the Warsaw Ghetto with his family. His family are later deported to a concentration camp, but Szpilman evades this fate by hiding in the ruins in the city.

A sympathetic Nazi officer, Wilm Hosenfeld, who greatly admires his amazing musical talent, helps the talented pianist to find food and shelter, enabling Szpilman to survive.

"Horrifyingly" close

The real Szpilman died in 2000. However, his widow and son, who outlived the musician, travelled to Berlin to be at the film's premiere on Monday.

Szpilmnan's son, Andrej, decribed the film as "horrifyingly" close to his father's experience.


The Pianist is Polanski's most personal project to date.

Polanski, a Paris-born Jew, moved to Poland with his parents when he was three years old, and grew up in the Krakow ghetto. He lost both parents in a Nazi Concentration camp, though managed to avoid this fate himself. When Polanski was, he managed to escape the Krakow Ghetto and was raised by Catholics in the Polish countryside.

"The Pianist" is regarded as Polanski's biggest success in almost 30 years and has surprised critics, who had begun to suggest his career may be nearing an end.

Polanski's last major award was in 1974, when he won a Golden Globe for Best Director, for his film noir "Chinatown".

"Masterful reconstruction"

His new film was praised by German critics this week.

German Arts critic, Marcel Reich Ranicki, who also survived the Warsaw ghetto and met Szpilman there many times, said the film was very close to the reality of the horrors of daily life in the Warsaw Ghetto.

"No, the reality (of the Warsaw Ghetto) was not different", he wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "Polanski has achieved what I did not dare to imagine or hope that he could. He has re-created the atmosphere with such overwhelming detail, that when I watch it, I can only think that some scenes, must have been blended with documentary footage. But that isn't the case. This is all a reconstruction. And Polanski has done so masterfully."

One of the greatest 20th century tales

Speaking to DW-WORLD, screenplay writer, Ronald Harwood said: "Szpilman's tale is truly one of the greatest stories of the 20th century". The author is currently working on another project related to the Nazi regime, a film of the trial of the historian David Irving, who repeatedly denied the Holocaust. In a damming judgement in 2000 a British Judge found Irving to have "deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence", that he was "an active Holocaust denier" and an anti-Semitic and racist.