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Schindler's List

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It would rank unquestionably with the best and most important pictures of all times.

Liam Neeson stars as Oskar Schindler, a real-life German businessman who saved over 1000 Jews during World War II. After the movie's memorable opening of the burnt-out candle dissolving into the smokestack of a train, Schindler prepares for a fancy dinner gathering. Spielberg introduces him in pieces -- an almost fetishistic collection of silk ties, cuff links and watchbands. The final touch is a Nazi Swastika pinned to his lapel.

Schindler is a man of appearances, it seems. During the war, he operates two factories: first manufacturing pots and pans and secondly shell casings, none of which are of any use to the Nazis. With the help of Itzhak Stern (Ben Kinglsey) he uses the factories to hire Jewish workers, keeping his employees out of the death camps.

Yet Schindler's List is not all about triumph. Spielberg doesn't shy away from the full horror of the Holocaust. The German Commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) is one of its deadliest catalysts. We see plenty of footage of humiliation, degradation and murder at his hands. But Spielberg is smart enough not to paint him as pure evil. We see him constantly thinking, weighing his beliefs, and continually trying to convince himself -- especially when he becomes inexplicably attracted to a Jewish maid (Embeth Davidtz).

Spielberg is enough of a master showman to break up the horror with small rewards. In one scene, a group of women is herded into what we suppose is a chemical shower where they will be killed. Instead it turns out to be a real shower with nothing more than hot water.

Photographed by Janusz Kaminski, Schindler's List is shot mostly in black-and-white, with a few exceptions, notably the "girl in the red dress." The red dress works in a kind of heightened operatic manner, raising Schindler's List past the level of a mere story or document