The Pianist is
Roman Polanski’s second movie since 1995, and it’s a doozie.
Although Polanski says there’s nothing autobiographical in the
film (actually it’s the film of the autobiography of Polish concert
Szpilman [Adrien Brody]), Polanski did live through the Cracow Ghetto
and the bombing of Warsaw as a child. He does draw on his personal
experiences. When one Jewish woman is executed, Polanski remembered how
the woman collapsed in a grotesque pose.
Brody reports that when the extra who was being shot didn’t
fall the way Polanski remembered, he showed her. Brody says, “For a
director to show an extra how she should act, actually falling to the
ground in the snow, was extraordinarily impressive to me.”
Brody went above and beyond what’s normally required of an actor to
play a roll. He lost 30
pounds before shooting started. Shooting
out of sequence, the scenes in the Ghetto, near the end of the film,
were shot first, after Szpilman had endured years of starvation.
“I was so weak I could barely climb over the wall,” says
Brody of one scene where he reenters the Ghetto.
not all. The film starts
with a shot of hands playing Chopin.
The camera pans up the arms to the face of Brody, establishing
that he’s actually playing. “While I was losing my 30 pounds, I was immersed in
learning how to play the piano. Whenever
you see me sitting at the piano playing, that’s actually me playing
what you’re hearing.” For
six weeks Brody starved himself on a diet of 2 boiled eggs for
breakfast, a small helping of chicken for lunch, and a small helping of
meat for dinner, all the while studying the piano.
As a result of
the attention to detail and commitment of Polanski and Brody, this is a
harrowing, realistic story of what it was like to live in the Warsaw
Ghetto and under Nazi occupation. It shows how fast death could appear, and how arbitrary it
was. The execution scenes
are chilling in their quotidian occurrences.
The Pianist epitomizes the banality of evil of which Hannah
creates a world that no longer exists, the Warsaw of the Ghetto, and it
looks as if it were filmed in 1943.
Szpilman was a nationally famous Polish pianist before the Nazi
invasion in 1939, when the movie starts.
Shortly thereafter the Holocaust overtakes them and their lives
become a living hell. The
Pianist shows how life continued, despite the cruelty and brutality, and
how Szpilman survived.
people who took care of him, like Wermacht captain Wilm Hosenfeld (ably
played by Thomas Kretschmann, who knows what life is like under
totalitarian rule from personal experience, having escaped from East
Germany when he was 19), a music enthusiast who spared Szpilman’s
life. The film shows others
who risked their lives for Szpilman.
is a fascinating, intense 148-minute movie.
There are no really graphic scenes of violence, like limbs being
chopped off, or people being raped or tortured.
But this is old-fashioned movie making at its best.
What you don’t see, you feel.
In the end, The Pianist is an uplifting film, showing how one
person can survive in a world gone mad.
The acting, writing (Ronald Harwood), directing, and
cinematography (Pawel Edelman) are as good as it gets.
Winner of the Palme d’Or (best picture) at the 2002
International Cannes Film Festival, it should be a sure-fire Oscar