Friday, August 5, 2011

Classic - The Pianist


Roman Polanski was a Holocaust survivor. In 1993, he turned down the opportunity to direct Schindler's List, because at the time he felt he was not ready to confront that subject. In 2002, however, Polanski decided to film his Holocaust themed movie, one called The Pianist, which was based on an incredible true story of survival amongst all of that horror. While this film is completely taken from the autobiography that Wladyslaw Szpilman wrote about his experiences, you can also see that there might be parallels between that story and Polanski's own. Szpilman no doubt survived thanks to the goodwill of non-Jews and just a little bit of luck, and without that, Polanski wouldn't be around blessing us all with his amazing gift of film-making. The fact that this was made by someone who had been there and had witnessed all of that going on made this film the harrowing, realistic experience it was. It's impossible not to admire Polanski's strength here...while we never visit a concentration camp, we see Jews doing anything they can to avoid their inevitable death. This film is all about Jews, not the evil bastards who discriminated against them.


There's no real 'plot' in this movie, so to speak. It is mainly just about a Jewish pianist, Wladysaw Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody) who was a part of a particularly well-off family. Of course, come the war, the family were sent first to the Warsaw Ghetto, and then off to the concentration camps. Wladysaw, however, was pushed out of the line by a family acquaintance, and instead of going to a concentration camp, he depended on a few non-Jews to help him along. From then on, it's just the story of his survival, which makes for a truly remarkable and interesting two and a half hours.


Through these two and half hours, you see a lot of horror. You see Jews being shot willy-nilly: whether it be for 'target practice' or just because they're running down the street like they were told to do. You see Jews being burned. You see - one of the moments when I completely lost it with this movie - a man in a wheelchair being thrown off a balcony. All of these things were treated as observations by Polanski, instead of being given what I like to call a 'glossy touch'. This is the kind of thing that can be found in many Hollywood depictions of the War/Holocaust, where the deaths of Jews always feel glorified and quite staged, at some points, mainly because they are trying so hard to make the audience feel like crap. Polanski, however, doesn't have to try. He knows what he saw all those years ago, and doesn't feel the need to glorify it in any way. His efforts are as realistic as hell, which is why he deserved the Best Director Oscar so much.


Another component in this movie which seems completely realistic is the jaw-dropping performance from Adrien Brody. For most of the film, he has to carry the film himself as he doesn't interact with anyone for large patches of it. It is rare for an actor to ever succeed in having the films best interests set squarely on their shoulders, but Brody does amazingly in his role. What is even more amazing, though, is the way he transforms with his character. At the start we are introduced to this charming man, who, without the war, would have gone on to be a successful and wealthy musician. Then we see a man who is not living in the best of conditions in a labour camp, but is personally helping to smuggle in weapons for a Jewish uprising. The worst of it, and the best display of Brody's commitment and talent is when he fades away to almost nothing. He is barely anything but a skeleton with an overgrown beard...and yet, even when his spirit should be broken, he just keeps on going. Brody, who I imagine hadn't been in such a weakened state in his life before, is just so goddamn believable it hurts to watch him. And trust me, I felt his performance in my bones. I don't think a performance has ever had that effect on me before.


The Pianist is a film which can easily involve the viewer. Instead of watching on while a helpless Jew just tries to survive, I felt like I was a helpless Jew trying to survive. This is told mostly from a Jew's perspective, and the fact that it only focuses on one Jew, it's a lot easier to believe in the tale of survival. While it may not have a plot, or narrative structure, it serves as a testimony to all of us that our lives, no matter how hard they seem, do not suck. That good luck and good people do exist out there. People may leave you, but there's always a way through. And, the main one is that help can come from the person you least expect it to come from. There's sheer inspiration in The Pianist which I do not think can be rivaled by anything else I've seen. Never before has a movie taken me in so much and feel everything it has to offer. So what I have to say is, thank you, Mr. Polanski, for making such a masterpiece of a film.

THE VERDICT: One of the best Holocaust themed films, which never fails to involve the viewer and has an absolutely amazing performance from Adrien Brody.

What I hoped for:








What I got:

7 comments:

  1. A riveting film indeed. I always thought it was a bit underrated as it doesn't seem to get as much love as it should be compared to say, Schindler's List.

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  2. I agree with Caster - not too many non-film-geeks know this film, while Schindler's List is shown to almost every student at German high schools, for example.
    The Pianist is also a bit more brutal, or maybe not as "sympathetic" as Schindler's List, but to me both of them are equally great films.

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  3. This is such a fantastic movie. I would say this would make an excellent double feature with Schindler's List, but I think everyone would be emotionally drained afterwards.

    Also, forget what the naysayers say. Brody earned that Oscar justly.

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  4. This film...it kills me. I am sorry but The Pianist trumps Schindler's List for me any damn day. Polanski's pain is shown here...and Adrien Brody's performance- my favourite of all time. He spends the majority of his time alone, and still we are not bored, but concerned, and mesmerised. The commitment in his performance, gah...all the other actors should just go bury their heads somewhere!

    @Anna- The double feature would be deathly.

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  5. The Pianist is fantastic. I would put The Pianist above Schindler's List because I think following one man through the horrors of the holocaust gives it a much more personal feeling, especially since Polanski actually experienced a lot of what he put into this film.

    And even though the film is horrible and I don't think the protagonist ends up being a very inspirational character (which I think I prefer), Polanski still manages to find beauty in the music of this Pianist, even in the most terrible situations.

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  6. This is a simply superb film. I saw it twice when it played it here! The remarkable things is Polanski has compressed the 1939-45 timeframe into just over two hours,a nd like Sarahs' Key touched on al the relevant issues. Adrien Brody is a revelation!
    Ihe set pieces are brilliant and I love the destruction of Warsaw. So realistic and for once CGI actually looking good.
    I loved sarah's Key but this is better. At about the same length it never loses pace as Sarah's Key did with swapping between the modern and 1940's era. A small flaw as it can be dificult to achieve and sustain.
    But what I like about The Pianist and Sarah's Key is the importance they show of the Holocaust not just about the camps. So much went on outside ofgthem and both these fine films portray that. Sarah's Key is about survivor guilt and The Pianist shows how Jews on the run managed to survive under such immense emotional and physical hardship, and just the simple will to live.

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  7. Castor - Yeah, it is surprisingly underrated!

    Lime(tte) - I think The Pianist was shown in schools for a short time here, because I remember some people talking about it. The Pianist is pretty brutal stuff!

    Anna - Oh gosh, that sounds like a double feature I'd attempt! Haha.
    And yes, Adrien Brody deserved his Oscar. I don't even know why there's even any hate towards his win.

    Nikhat - I think I like Schindler's List a bit more, but this film achieved a damn lot. And yes, you're right, this is never boring. Adrien Brody is beyond amazing!

    James - Yes, following one man through the Holocaust was very personal, and Polanski obviously poured his soul into this.
    The music does make this film great, too!

    Brent - I love how The Pianist showed a Jew outside the camps, because that part of the Holocaust is too often forgotten. This and Sarah's Key are both great films!

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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

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