Film Review: The Pianist
Roman Polanksi recreating memories of Nazi occupation from his childhood.
Based on a true story ?The Pianist? tells a simple tale of one man's struggle to survive what were some of the darkest years in European history 1939 ? 1945. Wladyslaw Szpilman, played by Adrian Brody, is a successful pianist and Polish Jew, living with his family in Warsaw, when war breaks out. Initially life changes slowly but soon it becomes apparent that his and his family's life will never be the same as the horrific reality of what is to happen dawns on them. Roman Polanski shows remarkable restraint in this movie given his personal experience as a survivor of Krakow ?I survived the bombing of Warsaw and the Krakow ghetto and I wanted to recreate my memories from childhood. It was also important for me to remain as close to reality as possible, and not make a film that was typically Hollywood." and it's this control that makes the movie all the more powerful.
The supporting cast is more than adept but it is Brody's movie. His dramatic transformation, from dapper young musician to broken man, both physically and emotionally by 1945, makes him a deserving Oscar recipient. His skill is immense and you can feel his isolation and almost sense his descent into madness when he's in hiding, locked in an apartment with no one to talk to, nothing to do, trying to keep as quiet as possible. As a musician deprived of his music we see his pain and anguish though his strumming fingers as the music plays out in his mind. The music is memorable because it is used sparingly so that when he does play it's all the more potent.
One particular scene remains ingrained in my mind. It is Szpilman playing the piano for a German officer and it's like a release for him, an outpouring of grief and pain onto the keys. It is simply shot with the camera catching the dust particles floating through the air and focusing solely on Brody and the piano keys as he plays.
Polanski tries to show it as it was and the violence in the Jewish ghetto is fast and brutal, shocking in the cold unemotional way that it is carried out, random attacks on men, women and children. We watch our disgust mirrored in Szpilmans? eyes as they grow wide with shock and revulsion in the initial scenes and then fall dark with resignation as the years progress and the horror continues.
Polanski never resorts to pounding music or built up climaxes for shock value, he instead focuses on the day-to-day survival, the search for food and the numbing fear and isolation. The shocking reality of it hits when you realize that though this is one man's story there were many Jews in a similar position who not make it through alive. In 1945 when Warsaw was liberated there were only 20 Jews remaining from 360,000 in 1939. It is haunting film, which despite its dark subject matter maintains a tone of hope throughout. With it Polanski has more than succeeded in what he set out to do by making a very un-Hollywood masterpiece.
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