/ 'The Pianist' - the movie. What's your opinion? Polanski
I got a bit sidetracked in my last posts, but if you don't mind I'd like to get back to discussing the film. Let's forget about what true courage is and whether or not honour is important enough to die for. Let's concentrate on the film instead; or rather on its presentation of events. But first, let me digress some more.
It really surprises me that nobody is interested in the people who helped Szpilman survive. Some of you said that they are not important, that they are just a bunch of nameless individuals who served the purpose of saving a great musician. I tried googling for them, using phrases such as "who saved Szpilman", and kept getting the unfortunate Wilm Hosenfeld time and time again. I only found ONE site which actually gives the names of some of these people: do you know who they are? There is at least one name you should recognize.
I quote from the site: "(...) looked after by Czeslaw and Helena Lewicki and Andrzej and Janina Bogucki and helped by Eugenia Uminska, Witold Lutoslawski, Edmund Rudnicki, Piotr Perkowski and many other, anonymous people.After the Warsaw Uprising he stayed in hiding, in the ruins of a burnt-out house, cut off from any help from his Polish friends. He was discovered by Wilm Hosenfeld, a Wehrmacht captain who provided him with food."
Witold Lutosławski... you know, the great Polish musician and composer? Even he didn't deserve a single sentence of recognition in the closing credits. Interesting, isn't it? A truly great composer risks his life to help a rather average (in professional terms) musician and composer of popular songs - because they are friends, or maybe simply out of good old-fashioned decency. This would have added some dimension to the film, but has been omitted completely. And if Lutosławski didn't make it, it's no surprise that lesser mortals who were only
Szpilman's friends did not stand a chance either.
Wilm Hosenfeld... I feel sorry for him. He really hoped saving Szpilman would save his life in turn: but he wrote down Spielman instead of Szpilman and nobody was ready to believe his story. He must have been a decent enough guy, but kowtowing to him as Szpilman's "saviour" is surely a misunderstanding.
After the Warsaw Uprising the city was deserted. Szpilman could have pretty much gone anywhere, into any house, and taken any food (if any was left), books, pillows, eiderdowns, or whole pieces of furniture, without the intervention or permission of anybody, least of all a German soldier. Of course, Szpilman could have simply walked out of the city with the millions of people who were evacuated after the Uprising - even many Armia Krajowa soldiers managed to escape this way, though the Germans were on the lookout for military-looking youths. But he preferred to stay - so automatically became an outlaw again, as nobody was allowed to stay on (the punishment being death on sight). So yes, Wilm Hosenfeld did save Szpilman - by not killing him. Great.
The thing is, many other German soldiers refrained from killing many other people in Warsaw at that time, as they were sick and tired of all the violence and destruction around them.
What am I driving at with all this?
There are many ways of telling a story, and The Pianist is Polański's way. By changing the name from Death of a City (Szpilman's original title) to The Pianist, Polański changed the whole perspective: where Szpilman saw himself as part of a dying community, as one of the many doomed inhabitants of his beloved city, Polański focuses solely on the individual, who is shown as fighting a losing battle against the whole world; even those who help him cannot be fully trusted; they take away Szpilman's watch (as if it was to be expected that they pay for his food and probably rent out of their own pockets); there is a hysterical anti-Semite on the landing (not completely surprising once you know that people from the whole building would be summarily executed if the Germans found out); there is not enough food (as if other Varsovians feasted daily on pheasants and champagne).
The Warsaw Uprising is shown as just another annoying nuisance to our poor hero, who loses contact with his useful Polish minions and thus is left to his own devices, the poor thing... And then comes the glorious day of meeting the angelic Wilm Hosenfeld, who DOES NOT KILL HIM! Oh, the wonderful, merciful German, how we are all supposed to adore him... Well, I don't, for that matter. I agree he behaved like a gentleman, but that's about it. If he were a Polish or Russian soldier, nobody would think twice about this "generous" gesture. But because he was German, and was supposed to kill, the contrast brings out a gratitude he does not really deserve (not to such a crazy extent, at any rate). So the overall impression we have is that Szpilman somehow miraculously survived on the Aryan side and then was saved by a good German soldier. To me, this is pure, thoroughbred propaganda.
Somehow I doubt Szpilman saw his story exactly this way; it is interesting that work on the film went ahead only after his death. You know?
One more grievance I have against this film is that it does not show any real glimpse of daily life in occupied Warsaw; we are not supposed to know that people disappeared from the streets every day (łapanki), that food was smuggled into the city from the surrounding villages by people brave enough (and admittedly capitalist-minded enough) to face death every day, that the punishment for harbouring a Jew was death for the whole family or household, that, in short, the whole city, on both the Jewish and Aryan side of the ghetto wall, was desperately short of food, exhausted by hard labour, and clutching at straws. "Death of a City" - a very apt title, too bad Polański did not respect even that.
Of course, it's a "good film" - but it's not a decent film. It leaves an aftertaste I do not like at all.