Director: Roman Polanski
Cast: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann
Duration: 148 minutes
The events portrayed in this film took place sixty years
ago during one of the greatest horror stories and tragedies
of the 20th century, the Holocaust. Each decade has produced
its cinema version of these events: the 1970s miniseries,
Holocaust, Sophie's Choice in the 1980s and, of course, Schindler's
List in the 1990s. The survivors are now growing older and
dying. These films contribute to keeping our consciences alert,
'Lest we forget'.
One person who has not forgotten is Polish film director,
Roman Polanksi, who will turn seventy this year. As a little
boy, Polanski himself escaped the bombing of Warsaw with his
father and joined his mother in the ghetto in Kracow. She
later died in the camps. He was helped by non-Jewish friends
in Krakow and survived. Pain has followed Polanski. When he
was thirty-five, his wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered
by Charles Manson and his followers. Some of this suffering
went into his films, especially his violent version of Macbeth
made after his wife's death.
With The Pianist, Polanski is able, at last, to share something
of his childhood story. The telling, however, while it has
terrible moments of Nazi atrocities towards the Jews, is done
in a more traditional, classical way of film-making, not what
might expect from the often bizarre Polanski. The screenplay,
by England's Ronald Harwood, is straightforward in its narrative.
The film uses many authentic Warsaw locations as well as computer
graphic effects that re-create the impact of the invasion
of the city. The Pianist won the Palme D'Or in Cannes in 2002.
But it is not Polanski's story. As director, he is almost
anonymous. What he has done is to take the opportunity to
tell his own childhood story through the memoirs of an actual
Jewish pianist, Wladislaw Szpilman (who died in July 2000).
Throughout the film Szpilman and Polanski seem to be observers
of Warsaw's suffering rather than participants in it. While
this gives a different perspective on the deportations, the
ghetto uprising, the Polish resistance and the entry of the
Russians to liberate the city, the film spends a lot of time
with the pianist's lone exile and patient survival, hidden
in apartments and dependent on kind and fearful neighbours.
With Szpilman, we frequently look out of windows, helpless
in the face of what we see.
Szpilman is played by American actor, Adrien Brody, who enters
deeply into his character, portraying the grief at the upheaval
of his family, playing music in the cafe's of Warsaw, using
his fingers to 'play' silently with the music inside his head
offering him some sanity and consolation. As in the film,
in real life Szpilman was discovered by a Nazi officer who
was moved by his music and protected him before he himself
disappeared into the Russian camps.
This is a film of great sadness and beauty and and one comes
away with a deep sense of the inhumanity of the Nazis, the
humiliation of the Jews and their suffering.