Academy Award® Winner
A story adapted from the autobiography of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who detailed his survival during WWII. View more >
violence and brief strong language
Starring Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Maureen Lipman... View more >
Academy AwardŽ for Best Director, Best Actor (Adrien Brody), Best Adapted Screenplay
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Actual footage from 1939 Warsaw opens director Roman Polanski's film The Pianist. The non-threatening footage hardly sets the mood of the film, but it immediately establishes the time and place and consequently alerts audience members to the specific part of an immense and painful history that will be told through the film.
This is a story about German Nazis and Polish Jews. It is a story about raw and arbitrary brutality. It is a story about moments of selfless love, and it is a story about all of the other familiar anecdotes associated with the Jewish Holocaust. But it is also a unique story. It is unique because it tells the story of the Warsaw Ghetto and one of its inhabitants, Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody).
Polanski begins with the new story as he promptly introduces Szpilman playing Chopin in a Warsaw radio recording studio, but he quickly retreats from the unfamiliar to the familiar. A man and a woman wrestle with a can of soup, and it spills into the filthy streets; the man falls to his stomach and slithers on the pavement as he devours the thick gruel. People are starving. Armed SS officers use people as puppets when they make awkward couples dance in the streets. People are being humiliated. SS officers interrupt a family dinner, pick up a crippled man in his wheelchair, and casually dump him off the top-story terrace; the family is herded downstairs, ordered to run, and gunned down in the streets. People are being killed.
Most people can anticipate what will happen when an angry SS officer randomly selects men from a line and orders them to lie face down on the cobblestone street. The quiet scene of strewn suitcases and dead bodies is haunting but expected. The wooden door of a railcar packed with scared and screaming Jewish people slams shut, but Polanski does not follow the train to its destination because 21st century audiences should know about the gas chambers, the shovels people used to dig their own graves, and the crematoriums waiting at the end of the tracks. People should know about these horrific treatments and events, and many might choose to glance away from the screen during the most graphic scenes. During these moments of elected relief, a person might begin to wonder what happened to Szpilman's story. Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood do well to stay in the Warsaw Ghetto and the surrounding area to keep the narrative focused, but Szpilman gets lost in the general history.
The newness exists in the subtle subplot of resistance. When reports of mass killings at Treblinka leaked into the Warsaw ghetto, a surviving group of young men organized the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, which translates to Jewish Fighting Organization. The members smuggled a small number of weapons into the ghetto through their burlap sacks of food. They urged Jewish people not to board the railcars. The April 19, 1943, uprising and revolt lasted over one month, a fact not entirely clear in The Pianist, but the German forces ultimately defeated the resistance movement. Still, the Jews had fought back, and their efforts were significant. So significant that one is justified half-way through the film to wonder if Polanski picked the wrong story. Szpilman's story, like every story of a Holocaust victim or survivor, is important and deserves to be told and heard, but the cinematic interest seemed to be occurring away from the camera's scope on the Jewish side of the brick ghetto wall lined with broken glass. By the time of the revolt, Szpilman had escaped and watches the action from a short distance in his hiding place. The audience member is confined to his temporarily protected space and separated from the historical events taking place inside the ghetto. Szpilman laments that he should have stayed with the men even though it would have meant his death, and again only for viewing sake, one might guiltily share his sentiments. Humans, after all, possess a curiosity and a desire to safely experience the most dramatic moments of history, and watching the ghetto crumble in fire from a distant window fails to places a person within the action.
But this is the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, the masterful Jewish pianist who escaped his death because of his musical talent under tremendous circumstances, and one would be wise to trust Polanski's choices. There were at least 750 stories within the burning ghetto, but the one followed in The Pianist is equally compelling once the Warsaw ghetto is in ruins and Szpilman's life becomes the sole focal point of the film. Brody speaks as much with his body as he does with his mouth during the second half of the film, and he is equally if not more brilliant in his verbal silence. The circumstances are harsh and nearly unbelievable, and his acting prohibits audience members to blink in fear of missing one moment of the performance. One stops breathing as Szpilman plays dead in the street to avoid actual death. One feels Szpilman's internal emotion when his hands return to the piano keys after a long absence. One tastes the raspberry jam he licks off his boney fingers. Brody says nothing as Szpilman, but the audience understands everything.
The Pianist succeeds on every level for numerous reasons including its attention to detail. Polanski provides specific dates associated with movements and events. Three hundred and sixty thousand Jews in the Warsaw district were relocated to the small designated space in the ghetto. Majorek (Daniel Caltagirone) names Treblinka--it isn't just a concentration camp. Details, details, details. The film also succeeds in its ability to speak to current issues. Polanski does not include the story of the merciful Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann) to create sympathy for the German perpetrators. He does not haphazardly highlight the parallels between how the Germans tortured the Jews and then how the Russians tortured the Germans. Violence only begets more violence. Hatred is an endemic for which no cure exists.
The Pianist was deserving of some of its Oscar nomination - like Best Director and Best Actor. It was less so in others - Editing, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay. A must for those interested in 20th century history.
it is one that you don't want to miss - I hope it does get an oscar.
Roman Polanski directed his bast work since "Chinatown," in a film called "The Pianist." the film is about a concert pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman who is caught up in the Nazi occupation of Poland from 1939 to 1944.
You probaby be saying"I saw this film before, you know! Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List." You can make comparisons between the two movies. I like to make one comparison. Spielberg made "Schindler's List" because he heard about the holocaust, Polanski made "The Pianist," because he's been though the horrors of the nazi occupation of his country, which is Poland.
Adrien Brody gave a great performance as Szpilman who must survive in safehouses, even in the rubble of a building.If you ever root for an underdog, "The Pianist" is one underdog of a movie. A must see.
A gut wrenching movie - everyone should see it. Cowardice, heroism, quiet devotion to a cause, are all present in this movie, as is one instance of humanity from a member of an inhuman regime, that results in the subject of the movie surviving the incredible horrors of the Warsaw ghetto.
This is the first movie I have ever been to in which not one audience member left until after the credits had rolled. Also, at least half the audience broke into applause at the end. If it were not for Polanski's problems, this would take the Oscar for best picture.
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