#28 The Pianist
(2002, Roman Polanski)
“Spielman? That’s a good name for a pianist”
The Pianist is the story of Polish Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Holocaust survivor whose memoirs were the basis on which the film was built. Caught up in the middle of German occupation of Poland during World War II, Szpilman sees first-hand the atrocities committed by the Nazis, and travels across occupied Poland trying to stay alive.
The major thing to note about this movie is that it’s not so much telling a story as it is merely a set of events strung together. The biographical nature of the movie makes it clear that there is no beginning, middle or end to all of this, just a condensed retelling of 6 years of real events during this time. It doesn’t matter how the film ends, since we already know the war ends and that Szpilman lives merely by knowing it’s based on his own account of the terrible events. But what this film does so effectively is show the struggles of one man as he’s thrust into a world he didn’t want to be a part of.
Szpilman is played incredibly well by Adrien Brody, who for much of the second half of the film is acting by himself, relying entirely on body language to convey the thoughts and feelings of the titular musician. The fact that he can carry the movie so well while simply wandering through an abandoned hospital as a fading corpse of a man is proof of his acting prowess. But even with other characters, he shines. He’s likeable when interacting with his family and acquaintances in mildly happier times, and his extreme sorrow at being torn away from his family and home in later events is moving without going overboard.
The film is also beautifully shot. As Szpilman becomes more and more isolated, we begin to see him more and more distantly. The Warsaw ghetto is suitably grimy and hopeless. Even the Nazi atrocities, such as shooting weaker workers in the head indiscriminately or forcing large groups of Jews onto cramped trains to Treblinka, are shot effectively, clearly demonstrating the suffering being experienced.
Together, these are the two elements that hold the film together, which is good, because without them the movie would fall flat. There’s no real plot here, and while that may be the point due to the nature of the story being told, it does make the film occasionally feel disjointed. We’re rushed through 6 years of Polish history within the space of two and a half hours, and this can be felt at times as we leap from scene to scene. There’s very little time to better establish Szpilman’s family members, or to build on his relationship with those who chose to help him after he escapes the ghetto. It is understandable that with this length, some things are going to fall to the wayside, but it’s still a shame we don’t get to spend a bit more time with the support cast.
However, this doesn’t let the film down. It’s still a powerful film. It doesn’t try and force an opinion of the Nazis on the audience, instead letting us pass our own judgements (even though it’s hard to sympathise with the Nazi cause). It prefers to show rather than point fingers of blame. The film merely acts as a casual observer, and is all the more effective for it.
It’s a very slow film overall, but it does carry a great emotional weight. Definitely worth watching.
Starring Adrien Brody, Ed Stoppard, Emilia Fox, Maureen Lipman, Frank Finlay & Thomas Kretschmann
Written by Wladyslaw Szpilman (autobiography) & Ronald Harwood
Produced by Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa & Alain Sarde
Music by Wojciech Kilar
Cinematography by Pawel Edelman
Edited by Herve de Luze
Favourite Scene: The scene where Spzilman is discovered by Nazi officer Wilm Hosenfeld and told to play the piano is profound. He hasn’t played in months, even years, and so he loses himself completely in his playing, and so this is a major emotional moment for a man whose life is music.
Scene That Bugged Me: Szpilman’s love interest is largely unnecessary. She didn’t even exist, either, she was made up for the film. She may as well have never been created, since she pretty much disappears once Szpilman goes to the ghetto
Watch it if: You want proof a single actor can carry a film
Avoid it if: You’re scared by all the Polish names.
Originally posted on Blogspot Tuesday 20 December 2011