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The Pianist
UK, Germany, France, Poland
Drama, Biography, History, War
IMDB rating:
Roman Polanski
Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman
Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld
Frank Finlay as Father
Maureen Lipman as Mother
Emilia Fox as Dorota
Ed Stoppard as Henryk
Julia Rayner as Regina
Wanja Mues as SS Slapping Father
Richard Ridings as Mr. Lipa
Nomi Sharron as Feather Woman
Anthony Milner as Man Waiting to Cross
Lucy Skeaping as Street Musician
Roddy Skeaping as Street Musician
Ben Harlan as Street Musician
Storyline: A brilliant pianist, a Polish Jew, witnesses the restrictions Nazis place on Jews in the Polish capital, from restricted access to the building of the Warsaw ghetto. As his family is rounded up to be shipped off to the Nazi labor camps, he escapes deportation and eludes capture by living in the ruins of Warsaw.
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Film makers have to step carefully when dealing with issues like the Nazi extermination program. There have been equally brutal programs of ethnic cleansing in places like Southeast Asia and Rwanda, in which hundreds of millions died, but nothing like this in Europe since the Middle Ages. The victims here were not only Jews but Gypsies, the mentally ill, homosexuals, socialists, communists, and political undesirables. The Nazis eliminated not six million but some uncountable number between 12 and 15 million. An event like that can't be treated lightly and milked for easy tears, or the event itself is cheapened.

Fortunately, the films that have explored the subject have been uniformly well done, as Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" is well done. Polanski himself suffered in much the same way as the protagonist, Vlad Szpilman (Adrien Brody). Polanski has a habit of embellishing his tales but there's no question that in this instance he knows what he's talking about.

Szpilman is a well-known young pianist on Warsaw radio but the German occupation puts the station out of business. He and his family are herded into the Warsaw ghetto where they are subject to constant abuse and occasional murder. Szpilman barely escapes being sent to Treblinka with the rest of his family. And for the last half of the film, with the help of some friends who endanger themselves by lending him aid, he scuttles rat-like from one hiding place to another, each more dismal and perilous than the last. He suffers jaundice, his hair and beard grow long, his clothes turn to tatters, his food disappears, he's half frozen, and he seems to shrink.

He's reduced to living in the attic of a nearly demolished apartment building and is ecstatic to discover a gallon can of pickles overlooked on the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet. The can falls out of his hands while he tries to open it and rolls across the floor to come to rest at the boots of a German officer, Captain Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann). The only Germans we've seen so far have been brutes -- ridiculing the insane, executing Jews who ask simple questions, or simply shooting people chosen at random.

We expect nothing from Hosenfeld except a quick shooting. But Hosenfeld is a human being and, having discovered that Szpilman "is" -- or rather "was" -- a pianist, he asks him to play a piano left in one of the flats. Szpliman has been unable to play for years and when he seats himself we worry that he might not bring it off and, indeed, his first chords are tentative, uncertain. Then his playing becomes automated, the old habits return, and he dashes off a dramatic and exquisitely executed piece of Chopin. Hosenfeld has been leaning back, enjoying the music, then leaves Szpilman quietly to his attic. He returns a few times later, before the Germans withdraw before the Russians, and unceremoniously hands him a few packages of food and, finally, his overcoat. The matter-of-fact compassion shown by Hosenfeld, and Szpilman's desperate need for contact with another human, are very moving.

When the Russian troops finally arrive, Szpilman stumbles out of his hovel to greet them, but seeing his overcoat the Russians open fire on him. Szpilman finally convinces them that he is a Pole, not a German, and one of the befuddled soldiers asks, "Then why the ****ing coat?" Szpilman is trembling with fear but manages to gulp, "I was cold." An epilogue tells us that Szpilman went on with his career and Hosenfeld wound up in a Soviet prison camp where he died in 1952, despite Szpilman's attempt to find him. Under the end credits, a smiling Szpilman plays a lively, sparkling composition by Chopin.

It's a remarkable film. Polanski is no longer the Wunderkind but a mature film maker. Nothing is excessive. We need only as much as we need to know to understand Szpilman's travails -- one tragedy following another. There are no sentimental speeches at the final parting of Szpilman and his family. Szpilman himself never breaks down. He simply does what needs to be done to survive. And Adrien Brody captures what Szpilman must have been like. (From some angles he resembles the young Arthur Rubenstein.) Kretschmann gets Hosenfeld down pat as well. In their scenes together we sense their respective positions -- one man with nothing left to lose, the other with nothing left to gain. The story, and the historical facts it's based on, raise many questions about human nature, of course. I'm not at all sure that if we could find the answers to those questions we would like what we found.

One of the better films of the year.
Relentless, harrowing tale of survival
There is a certain hallmark in a Polanski film and I have used the words "relentless" and "harrowing" out of respect and observation. Polanski often wields his art in challenging, aggressive and disturbing ways. Some have complained that his predilection to violence and blood are sometimes a bit much. However, though this film has all of that and then some, the sum of the parts is equal to the incredible story of Wladyslaw Szpilman. Having not heard of him before, the first time I saw this film I was shocked on many levels. As a Jew, of course, I had a hard time keeping my eyes on the screen as the details of Nazi brutality were presented like a hard slap on the face. As a pianist myself, I was stunned at how I had missed this mans story and amazed at how good he was as an artist.

There will always be comparisons made by critics when a so-called holocaust movie is made. People draw lines, in this case, to Schindler's List and other fine films. It is odd, isn't it, that Schindler's story took place in Crackow and this film in Warsaw and in each case we feel that humanity had reached the nadir point of misery. Of course that is not true: the death camps, where so many ended up, were the bottom of the pit. "The Pianist" shows us the story of the great Warsaw Jewish population and how it was rounded up, put to work, then obliterated or shipped to death camps. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was one of the few occasions during the war when Jews rose up against the Nazi war machine. But let me return to the movie as such.

I have no doubts in my mind that the hand of fate came to protect Szpilman. The obvious philosophical question then becomes: why him and not his whole family? It's an impossible question when we ask it but the whole film begs the question. It is an imponderable conundrum but for me the hand of fate was as plain to see as anything. His survival comes in many flavors. He is aided by the hated "capos", the Jewish police in the ghetto. He is helped by artists in the Christian community who knew of his own fame and took enormous risks to help him as best they could. He was assisted by the Polish underground. Finally, in the most moving part of the film, he is aided in the most unexpected manner, by a high ranking German officer, who, upon discovering him hiding in a totally bombed out quarter of the city (we never know why the officer was there, seeing that the blocks and blocks of city were reduced to total rubble)....asks him to play the piano for him; incredibly he plays and to break your heart. The officer inexplicably has sympathy for him and provides him with food and in the end his own winter coat. Our emotions by this time are so overwrought with seeing what Szpilman had suffered that to see him saved yet again by a German soldier.....leaves us raw.

This film has the look and feel of what it must have been like, Polanski having taken pains to hold little back in terms of the brutality, random murder and deprivation of such huge numbers of people. Adrien Brody, what can you say of this performance? He is one of those rare number of actors who can say everything with their eyes. Giancarlo Gianini always does that. Brody often reduces his thoughts and feelings into wordless cries that pour out of his eyes; if you cannot feel moved to tears when he says nothing then you just don't have the receptors to pick it up. To say that his evocation of Szpilman was sensational is too weak a summary. Would that more actors could reach into their souls to pull together such depth, cinema would be graced with more masterpieces. This film is so powerful I doubt we have the ability to drink it all in in one go. So richly deserving of the 3 Oscars. Brodie's performance is so staggering, he will probably not eclipse it again. A monumental story of survival amidst mountains of death, destruction and heart break. A rare cinema event indeed.
To hell and back.
The Pianist is an incredible film in many aspects. Roman Polanski's account of the survival of the pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is a document about how one man can overcome the worst possible situations in a world gone completely mad around him.

The only fault one can find with the adaptation of Mr. Szpilman's story by playwright Ronald Harwood, is the fact that we never get to know the real Wladyslaw Szpilman, the man, as some of the comments made to this forum also have indicated.

There is a very interesting point raised by the the pianist's father who upon reading something in the paper, comments about how the Americans have forgotten them. Well, not only the Americans, but the rest of the world would not raise a finger to do anything for the people that were being imprisoned and made to live in the confined area of Warsaw. The exterminating camps will come later.

What is amazing in the film, is the frankness in which director Polanski portrays the duplicity of some Jews in the ghetto. The fact that Jews were used to control other Jews is mind boggling, but it was a fact, and it's treated here matter of factly. Had this been made by an American director, this aspect would have never surfaced at all. Yet, Mr. Polanski and Mr. Harewood show us that all was not as noble and dignified as some other films have treated this ugly side of war.

Wladyslaw Szpilman, as played by Adrien Brody, is puzzling sometimes, in that we never get to know what's in his mind. He's a man intent in not dying, but he's not a fighter. He accepts the kindness extended to him. He never offers to do anything other than keep on hiding, which is a human instinct. He will never fight side by side with the real heroes of the ghetto uprising. His role is simply to witness the battle from his vantage point in one of the safe houses across the street from where the action takes place.

Adrien Brody is an interesting actor to watch. As the pianist of the story he exudes intelligence. There is a scene where Szpilman, in one of the safe houses he is taken, discovers an upright piano. One can see the music in his head and he can't contain himself in moving his fingers outside the closed instrument playing the glorious music from which he can only imagine what it will sound in his mind.

The supporting cast is excellent. Frank Findlay, a magnificent English actor is the father of the pianist and Maureen Lipman, another veteran of the stage, plays the mother with refined dignity.

In watching this film one can only shudder at the thought of another conflict that is currently brewing in front of our eyes. We wonder if the leaders of the different factions could be made to sit through a showing of The Pianist to make them realize that war is hell.

Move along, no story here
If you think that movies that deal with Nazi atrocities are inherently worthwhile, then you might think that this movie is inherently worthwhile. If, on the other hand, you expect a movie, whether it deals with Nazi atrocities or not, to actually tell a story, then I'd say there's a good chance you *won't* find this movie worthwhile.

What does this movie give us? Well, it gives us a string of Nazi atrocities, very realistically depicted, and it gives us what I suppose is supposed to be a main character, but it gives us precious little else! Most of main character's screen time is given over to him being acted upon by circumstances and by other people, but very little of him being pro-active, himself. And even his passivity might be interesting if we knew what he was thinking or feeling. But we are never given that information. We never know what it is that he really wants. Or how he feels, say, about the fact that his family was shipped off to their probable death, but he was saved by a fluke.

The picture is certainly well-made from the stand point of art direction and cinematography, but story-wise, it's a shambles. As far as I'm concerned, Roman Polanski owes me big-time. Thank you.
A Graduate Course In Human Cruelty
Spoilers Ahead:

This film equals or surpasses Schindler's List. It is on the micro or individual level versus the macro or group level of Schindler's. Brody gives such a powerful, quiet, understated performance and Polanski shows why if he applied his considerable gift towards less supernatural films we would all be quite richer. Polanski's signature in this movie is showing little snippets of individual cruelty; he let's us project outwards the large sum of all these acts of evil. Slapping the father for walking on the sidewalk, making the Jews dance with each other, and my favorite taking the grandfather, in the wheelchair, lifting him over the balcony and dropping him several stories. I prefer this movie to Schindler's because the cruelty in taken down to the everyday, human level. Schindler's was so large, the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, you get lost in the sheer numbers of the horror you are witnessing. Here, you get to look out it close up. Polanski does not paint all of his countrymen as saints, notice how one slob abandons Brody, using his name to collect money for his care, pocketing it and not caring what happens to Szpilman.

Brody really draws us in with his quiet, slight unimposing manner; we run with him as he is forced to flee from one piece of safety to another. Who will forget him making the racket and the big Nazi cow bellowing Jew! Jew! as he runs away. The horrors of working for these insects how any trip or mistake is punished with severe beatings. Book burning, corpulent, stupid, Bratwurst eating fatheads yelling and beating. I love the scene where they have to line up, the tall pig picks people out at random, makes them lay down and shoots them. Watch for the poor last guy when the swine runs out of bullets and calmly reloads while the man waits to die. What Polanski did is blend inextricably the beautiful classical music Brody plays with the images of human cruelty. Spielberg did the same with a scene in Schindler's where while they are machine gunning hiding stragglers at night, in the buildings, the machine gun reports blend with some Nazi playing Bach; the idiot listening calls it Mozart demonstrating his ethics equal his musical knowledge.

The point of the synthesis is a lesson in misanthropy. When you hear that beautiful music, remember what the humans who generated it are also capable of doing to their fellow man. We see this replicated at the end where the Nazi who catches Brody, demands the starving, shaking, emaciated man play the piano for him like a performing monkey. Some people felt sorry when his mercenary kindness to Brody doesn't bear fruit later when the Russians capture him; I was not one of those people. He got just what he deserved. The movie is so gently done, except for a few scenes of the Warshaw Uprising, there really are not big macro moments. Yet, that is its beauty; we experience is all through Brody's eyes. This harmless, tiny man who plays the piano with great beauty; this juxtaposition, the beauty with the ugliness is why Roman Polanski is such a great director. It is not a movie, it is an experience you will take with you the rest of your days. They still haven't released it on Blu Ray for some stupid reason; how they could have missed this great film for conversion to HD escapes me. A Great Film From A Brilliant Man.

"A man selling stolen goods and the other paying with counterfeit money; that is your picture of human nature." Mark Twain
Superb and very touching
This is a truly heart-wrenching story of one, sensitive man whose family are torn from him (never to be seen again, perished in the Holocaust) and about his survival over solitude, deprivation, starvation and terror whilst in hiding during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. In my opinion it is one of the finest depictions of the holocaust (of which there are many all-consuming portrayals of only a fraction of the stories which occurred). Brody puts in a marvellous and utterly touching performance as Szpilman. The story is abound with terribly moving vignettes which depict the emotional and cultural breakdown of Warsaw's persecuted Jewish community as Nazi policy tightens around them; the overall inability of the community to stand-up to the systematic destruction of their neighbours; the acceptance to wear the Star of David armband (the scene where his father is hit by Nazis and forced to walk in the gutter rather than on the pavement); the arrogant survivalist attitudes of the Jewish Sonderkomando-police force; the young Jewish boy profiteering from petty food-stocks in the ghetto holding area; and then the opportunists, like Szalas, who manipulate Jewish fugitives in hiding outside of the ghetto.

The relationship between Szpilman and Hosenfeld may seem to come into the story far later than expected – about three quarters of the way through – but it is nevertheless the right moment, arriving at the most vulnerable time for both characters – and Polanski creates nothing short of a masterful 'forbidden fruit' by way of coupling the pair, united in their passion for the piano, but whereby the discovery of their friendship would spell immediate death. Superb. It is both touching and a reality check when Hosenfeld offers Szpilman his great-coat, adding afterwards that he has another, warmer one for himself in a slight, yet perhaps ashamed, departure from his humane self and a return to his Nazi persona. The dark humour which later follows up this parting-scene – (Russian soldier: "What's with the f*****g coat", Szpilman : "I'm cold") – was a welcome piece of comic relief however bleak the subtext. The film's ending is with both deep sadness for the lives lost and destruction wrought, and, with a staunch optimism for the future.

In my opinion "The Pianist" is one of the greatest Holocaust films made. The horrors are not forced upon us in the face, but they are presented using the eyes of one man, hidden away from it, seeing it only as an escapee and we get an understanding of its emotional scale to a far greater extent as we are forced to think and hide with him.
Amazing movie
I believe this movie to be one of the most excellent movies of our times. It has several aspects that make it especially great. Firstly, the music, the most important feature of this movie, in my opinion. Chopin nocturnes and polonaises are perfectly chosen and arrayed to create an unforgettable atmosphere. In one scene, they even take time to play the whole piece of music, without interfering. Secondly, the actors in the movie: none of them are/were really well known, but WOW! (for lack of a better word). Thirdly, it's one of the few movies, where you can actually watch the credits (forever) and wish the movie wouldn't end.

Personally, I think it's a perfect 10/10.
"You musicians don't make good conspirators."
Fortunately, I'm able to keep my personal feelings about Roman Polanski compartmentalized enough to say that this was a remarkable film. I've read many comparisons between "The Pianist" and "Schindler's List" on this board, and even though the films are quite different, the overpowering portrayals of Man's inhumanity against Man will leave the viewer forever affected. Adrien Brody's Best Actor award was stunningly achieved here, as his character arcs through an incredible series of circumstances to barely survive life in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. What little I knew of director Polanski outside of his marriage to Sharon Tate, the grisly Manson murders, and his rape conviction in the late 1970's, was put into an entirely different perspective when I learned about his own life in the Polish Ghetto. Much of what we see in the film must emanate from his own unique experience as a child during the War and experiencing Nazi atrocity first hand. I don't envy anyone who survived that experience enduring the painful daily memories of those times.

Given the film's title, I guess I was somewhat surprised by the paucity of musical sequences, though what was offered was artistically presented. Particularly poignant was the scene when Wladyslaw Szpilman (Brody) was left to hide in an apartment where a piano was available, and he mimed his way through a selection from memory by the need to maintain silence.

Many years following the end of World War II, a single film cannister simply marked "The Ghetto" was discovered, revealing valuable insight into how the Nazi propaganda machine attempted to manipulate public opinion about 'rich' Jews who lived in luxury alongside fellow Jews in squalid conditions. Even more intimate details of life in the Warsaw Ghetto are presented in "Shtikat Haarchion" (A Film Unfinished), describing conditions that are even more horrific than those depicted in "The Pianist" or "Schindler's List", if that can even be imagined. These movies exist for a higher calling as a constant reminder that the term "Never Again" be one to constantly take seriously in an ever increasingly dangerous world.
Polanski's most rewarding masterpiece.
After declining to direct Schindler's List due to personal reasons, Polanski set out direct a WWII survival story of his own. The Pianist lacks the narrative sweep of Schindler's List but has strong acting and personal direction. The film is beautifully crafted and original from other similar motion pictures. It distinguishes itself from Polanski's other masterpieces because it has the heart his films usually do not possess. It's just as haunting as his other movies but the beauty and sickness of humanity are contrasted in a way that not even Polanski has ever successfully done before. By far Adrien Brody's finest performance and probably Polanski's best film.
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