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Holocaust Film Scores Academy Award Upset

“The Pianist,” a film about one Jew’s survival in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation, scored a major upset when it won three Oscars on March 23.

The film, adapted from a memoir by Wladyslaw Szpilman, garnered Academy Awards for director Roman Polanski, lead actor Adrien Brody and screenwriter Ronald Harwood.

Another Holocaust-related film, “Nowhere in Africa,” which depicts a Jewish family that resettles in Kenya after being forced to flee Nazi Germany, won for best foreign-language film.

Most critics had predicted that “The Pianist,” facing stiff competition from the musical “Chicago,” would lose out in the Oscar voting. The victories illustrated once again the enduring hold of the Holocaust on the imagination and sentiments of the film industry.

Polanski, who escaped from the Krakow Ghetto as a 7-year-old boy, was not present at Sunday evening’s 75th annual Academy Awards. He is officially a fugitive from the United States for having engaged in unlawful sexual relations with a minor. The statuette was accepted on behalf of the director by presenter Harrison Ford. Polanski had been previously nominated for his films “Tess,” “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby.” Loud applause greeted the announcement of Polanski’s win.

Brody, in his first major starring role, portrayed pianist Szpilman, one of a handful of Jews to survive the doomed uprisings of the ghetto and city of Warsaw during five years of Nazi military rule.

An obviously stunned Brody exceeded his allotted acceptance speech time. “My experiences of making this film made me very aware of the sadness and the dehumanization of people at times of war,” he said.

Dustin Hoffman, who had earlier introduced a brief segment of “The Pianist,” described the film’s theme as “the triumph of the human spirit and of the transforming power of art.”

“The Pianist” got off to a slow start by missing out in three lesser categories for which it had been nominated. It also ceded the best picture Oscar to “Chicago.”

Less of a surprise was the Oscar for “Nowhere in Africa” as the top foreign-language film.

Another Holocaust-themed nominee, “Prisoner of Paradise,” about a Jewish entertainer who is forced to direct a Nazi propaganda film, lost out to Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” for best documentary feature.

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