The Pianist

The Pianist


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

You would have thought that Holocaust fatigue might have reached epidemic proportions amongst moviegoers by now. What more can be said, after Schindler's List and all the rest of them? Perhaps, it's time to leave nasty Nazis alone for a while.

And then along comes Roman Polanski, the diminutive Pole whose pregnant wife was murdered by the Manson Family, director of Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby, on the run from Californian justice for alleged activity with an underage girl, exiled to Paris from where he made a succession of flawed films, which flopped at the box office.

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The Pianist is a magnificent work of historical record, on a different scale to anything he has ever done, expertly scripted by Ronald Harwood and beautifully played by an international cast. Polanski makes a familiar story of persecution and inhumanity utterly fresh. By comparison, Spielberg's approach, with the girl in the red dress and the emotional manipulation of the women in the shower scene, seems sensationalist and sentimental.

Based on the recently deceased Polish concert pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman's reminiscences, the tradition of the biopic is put to one side. This is not so much the story of a musician's rise to prominence against impossible odds, as a survivor's tale, from upper middle class respectability to the despair and humiliation of the Warsaw ghetto to months of hiding out in desolate rooms, half mad and starving, while a vicious war rages beneath his window.

After his family is herded with many thousands of Jews onto trains that will take them to the death camps, he is helped by friends to stay one step ahead of the Gestapo. Eventually, as the ghetto empties, leaving a detritus of human corpses and abandoned luggage, he escapes into the city to become a fugitive at the mercy of other people's generosity and trust.

Polanski's depiction of those terrible years is remarkable for its recreation of a living ruin. He manages to retain a constant tension throughout, despite knowing the outcome, as if Szpilman's plight is shared and every day might be the last.

There is no sign of grotesquery, or hidden sexual agendas, which, so often, litter his movies. He is dealing with the kind of realism that demands absolute integrity and not once does he allow himself a sniff at the oxygen of horror.

Adrien Brody's performance reflects the commitment and individuality of the entire cast. He carries the weight of experience with unerring courage. Ever since Ken Loach used him in Bread And Roses, he has been an actor to watch.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2003
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True story of how a jewish concert pianist escaped the holocaust by hiding out in the Warsaw ghetto.
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Read more The Pianist reviews:

Jennie Kermode ****1/2

Director: Roman Polanski

Writer: Ronald Harwood, based on the autobiography by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia Fox, Michal Zebrowski, Ed Stoppard, Julia Rayner, Jessica Kate Meyer, Ruth Platt

Year: 2002

Runtime: 148 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, France, Germany, Netherlands, Poland


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