The Pianist (2002)
Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Emilia Fox
Director: Roman Polanski
Plot: A famous Jewish pianist is caught up in historical events when Nazis invade Warsaw and, thanks to the help of a variety of people, survives the war by hiding around the ghettos even after his family is deported to the camps.
Review: A very different entry in Polanski's body of work, The Pianist is a surprisingly traditionally structured and restrained portrait by a director who is best known for his over-the-top, atmospheric, and bizarre productions
(Macbeth, Chinatown). The film is a very personal effort for its director; based on the true-life memoirs of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, the events partly reflected what the director experienced in his youth. As such, the film (shot completely on site in Poland) includes many intimate details in each scene that enhance the feeling of desperation and horror. There is no particular esthetic or visual style to distract from the events, just a meticulous, careful attention to its own kind of realism. Not to say it doesn't look splendid: The production values are high, with the myriad impressive sets showing the terrible urban devastation, and even the cinematography is surprisingly rich. The protagonist often seems to be as much an observer as a victim, as the movie makes us witness to the most important events of the Warsaw occupation, from the dehumanization of the Jewish populace, to the deportation, to the resistance uprising and eventual liberation. Each of these scenes is shown from his viewpoint, peeked through windows or doors slightly ajar, giving only a fleeting impression of the events surrounding him, enhancing his impression of powerlessness in the face of the conflict. Yet they are no less strong for being half-hidden. Stories of WW2, of the persecution of Jews and Poles, of the Holocaust are, when as well told as this one is, always fascinating. Though there may be anything new here in terms of the atrocities, humiliations and pain piled upon its victims that have not been portrayed elsewhere, it's still harrowing and captivating to watch. But let it be clear that this is not a story on the Holocaust, an event that is only alluded to in the film. Rather, this is a story about one man's survival, and an artist's passion for his music. At the same time, fake sentimentality doesn't really have a place here; Polanski doesn't force the issue because he doesn't need to: events are powerful enough to provide a strong emotional reaction without embellishment. The script also doesn't pass judgment on what happened, never stereotyping or simplifying its protagonists be they German or Pole. Despite the title, much of the film rejects any kind of music, giving a poignant portrait of an artist lost to life, until the climactic act where, towards the end of the war, his interpretation of Chopin's Nocturne will save his life - it's a powerful scene, and a powerful classical piece, which Polanski justifiably allows to play in its entirety. As for the cast, it is altogether excellent, but Brody, as the modest protagonist forced to err hidden and hungry within his own city, is at the very center of it all. The actor manages to convince us of a life of hardship with fragility and grace, even as his character succumbs to starvation and fear. There is a certain authenticity and optimism that shines through even the most devastating moments and, in the end, maybe that is what
The Pianist is all about.