(Click here for Internet Movie Database entry)
Apparently, the reviews for this
movie have ranged from complaining that the Holocaust has already been
overdone in the movies to saying that everyone must see this film.
Both of these extreme viewpoints are correct. After seeing such films
as Schindler's List, a film
like The Pianist cannot but seem somewhat derivative. On the other
hand, even though some of the initial shock value is gone because we know
so much more about the subject now, it doesn't make The Pianist
any easier to watch. If anything, the fact that The Pianist
is a much smaller, more personal film than Schindler's
List somehow concentrates the emotional response. The Pianist
tells the true story of a young Jewish pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien
Brody), living in Warsaw at the outbreak of World War II. He lives
with his parents and siblings, and makes his living by playing the piano
on the radio. After the Germans invade Poland, we are shown how,
slowly but surely, the lives of this family are constricted. First,
the Jews are discriminated against, then they are forced into the ghetto
and then, inevitably, they are forced to board the trains. Szpilman
is saved by chance and we follow his life, by turns, harrowing and excruciatingly
boring, as he flees and hides from the Nazis, growing thinner and thinner,
year by year.
This is, of course, a role that an actor may wait his whole life for, and Adrien Brody makes the most of it. He is in virtually every scene in the film and you can see the effect of the war in microcosm in his face. which becomes more twisted with each passing scene. The supporting cast are uniformly good. Standouts include Szpilman's father (Frank Finlay), perhaps best known from the 1973 version of The Three Musketeers but whom I remember vividly from the 1971 TV Miniseries, Casanova which was very racy for the time. Also good are Szpilman's sister (Jessica Kate Meyer) and a kindly German officer (Thomas Kretschmann). But this is Brody's film. And he deserves his Oscar nomination.
This film was directed by the now infamous Roman Polanski. Born in 1933, he was living in Warsaw at the outbreak of World War II. His parents were sent to concentration camps but he escaped the ghetto and somehow survived wandering the countryside. So, The Pianist is a very personal film for Polanski and that emotion comes through very strongly in the film. The only thing missing for me was at the very end, when after the war, Szpilman returns to his old job playing the piano on the radio and life returns to "normal." It's almost jarring because the film doesn't deal with how Szpilman can return to any kind of normal life after what he has been through.
The Pianist is hard to watch but you should. It's worth it.