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The Pianist
2002 - R - 148 Mins.
Director: Roman Polanski
Producer: Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde
Written By: Ronald Harwood, Wladyslaw Szpilman
Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Ed Stoppard
Review by: David Trier
For good reason, there aren’t a lot of really funny Jewish Holocaust movies. The Pianist is no exception, which unfortunately places it in a difficult position to review. Brilliantly acted, superbly shot and painfully realistic, I can only recommend this film for someone looking for a good injection of depression.

Wladyslaw Szpilman is a Polish Jew making a modest living as a pianist at the start of WWII. But whatever aspirations he may have had, he, his family, and all the rest of the Polish Jews are “re-settled” into overcrowded fascist ghettoes. Szpilman manages to escape after quickly recognizing that the indiscriminate Nazi execution of Jews is only the beginning of the horror. After barely surviving in hiding with the mediocre support from some local Poles, he struggles to make it on his own in the attic of a gutted building in leveled Warsaw. He is then kept alive with the help of a Nazi with a guilty conscience until the war finally ends and he returns to playing piano.

Sure to get an Oscar nomination (and likely to lose it to Michael Caine’s performance in The Quiet American), Adrien Brody shines in this incredibly demanding role. He skillfully brushes aside any impulses an actor would have to ham it up and delivers an honest performance that exemplifies Roman Polanski’s realistic approach to the film. It’s not a journey most of us wish to take, but The Pianist offers a snapshot of the Polish Jew in the Holocaust that quickly reminds us of the nightmare regular people were forced into.

The realistic death and violence of the film had me praying the story wouldn’t enter the concentration camps and, fortunately for me, Szpilman’s story is highlighted by his good fortune to have avoided them. When starving in a cold attic while your people are shot and tortured on sight is good fortune, The Pianist gives us a terrifying and accurate image of the Jewish Holocaust that we hadn’t previously understood.

On the down side, English spoken in a Polish or German accent makes some of the actors seem fakey against the realistic setting. Also, Szpilman’s story is a little tepid because his only accomplishment is surviving while others perished. He’s not a war hero and he doesn’t save anyone’s life, so some moviegoers might question the justification for a film based on his life story. But his character is easy to identify with and more than the story of Szpilman, the film’s achievement is found in capturing the environment of the time. Poland is the real leading character in this story. Unlike Schindler’s List, which glorified a man who profited by using Jewish slave labor and only later discovered that he had inadvertently saved them from being gassed, The Pianist has no one to glorify - not the Polish intellectuals who did little to help the Jews, not the Jewish elitists who policed the ghetto. Instead the film simply tells the true story of WWII from the eyes of a Jewish pianist in Poland.

Although parts of the film move too slowly, the acting and cinematography is consistently impressive, making for an unpleasant and depressing, yet very well-executed film and certainly Polanski’s best since Chinatown
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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