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  •  REVIEW: THE PIANIST

    The Pianist

    Left behind

    Circumstances, help from his fans and blind luck save a musical prodigy from the concentration camp as the rest of his family is taken away in the powerful personal drama "The Pianist."

    By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
    Offoffoff.com

    Based on celebrated pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's autobiography (and making more than an implicit reference to director Roman Polanski's own childhood escape from the Warsaw Ghetto), "The Pianist" paints a vivid portrait of how Szpilman, a Polish Jew living in Warsaw during Hitler's September 1939 invasion, escaped deportation to the concentration camps by a combination of assistance from admirers and, as with most Holocaust survivors, enormous amounts of luck.

      
    THE PIANIST
    Directed by: Roman Polanski.
    Written by: Ronald Harwood, Wladyslaw Szpilman.
    Cast: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Ed Stoppard.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    The film, more an eyewitness account than a strict dramatization, breathes new life into a genre that is always difficult to watch — the inhumanity and atrocities of a Nazi regime that randomly pulls Jews, be they men, women, or children, from lineups and executes them just as randomly. Polanski's film focuses on the family, the Szpilman family, deftly chronicling their quickly changing world as the Nazis place humiliating restrictions on what Jewish people can and cannot do while forcing them to identify themselves with distinguishing armbands.

    First transferred from their affluent Warsaw residence to a crumbling-walled ghetto along with 400,000 other Polish Jews, the Szpilmans find work — and food — increasingly hard to come by as Ronald Harwood's well-tuned and intimate screenplay exposes the family's initial incredulity, defiance and, shortly thereafter, fear at the hands of the Nazi extermination machine. Like most they are eventually bundled onto a train bound for a "labor camp."

    Walking to the train, Wladyslaw tells his sister, "It's an odd time to say this, I know, but I wish I knew you better." Wladyslaw never boards the death train — he's pulled from the ranks by a Jewish police sympathizer and slips away unnoticed — but it's the last time he sees any of his family members alive.

    "The Pianist" clocks in at two and a half hours, although a lengthy sequence late in the film (in which Wladyslaw simply hides from his oppressors first in a German District apartment, then a hospital, then an abandoned attic) could have been trimmed considerably. While epic in scope, it's the little things that make "The Pianist" such a compelling film experience: a family cutting a caramel purchased for 20 zlotys into six equal pieces; a can of pickles carried as if a life preserver; a young girl holding a birdcage crying for her mother while rotting corpses and human filth litter the edges of the frame; the true meaning of gratitude in a world where a genuine "thank you" speaks volumes (Wladyslaw's sister's response to her brother's comment at the train); and the film's title itself, a simple label that belies the inherent horrors of that time.

    Both Polanski and Adrien Brody ("The Thin Red Line") — who portrays Wladyslaw Szpilman (who died at age 88 in Warsaw) with a respect that can best be described as reverential — received Academy Awards for their work here. Whether the film's direction or lead performance was the best of 2002 is academic since there's no debating the passion and the precision that Polanski and Brody bring to the project.

    A more personal but no less poignant film than "Schindler's List" or "Life is Beautiful" (two similarly focused motion pictures of equal power), "The Pianist" is a haunting tale of survival that helps us to further understand a horrifying and unforgettable chapter in our constantly checkered history.

    MARCH 31, 2003
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on The Pianist:

  • Unfortunate Omission   from Dorothea, Apr 10, 2003
  • Good film but....   from jsh, May 14, 2003
  • the pianist is..........   from vianey, Jul 8, 2003
  • English Winner movie   from young Hwa joh, Jul 25, 2003
  • Great Movie   from Marsha Bolden, Aug 19, 2003
  • I love the movie   from Wontsay, Dec 30, 2003
  • The Pianist   from Nadia, Feb 11, 2004
  • QUALITY OF THE FILM   from SHAMEEK BOSE., Apr 30, 2004
  • I love the movie most. Because.........   from SHAMEEK BOSE., Apr 30, 2004
  • Movie   from Terry, Dec 9, 2009

  • Post a comment on "The Pianist"