The Pianist


Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by:Ronald Harwood
Starring: Adrien Brody, Emilia Fox, Michal Zebrowski, Ed Stoppard, Maureen Lipman
Released: March 6, 2003
Grade: A

In my eyes, the highest honour any film can achieve is to win the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.  Held in May each year, the festival brings together films (and celebrities) from all over the world and the top prize is selected by a jury of experienced filmmakers.  Only 25 films are preselected to compete for the Palm D’Or (which stands for Golden Palm) so just to make the list is an honour in itself.  In 2002, the English language films in competition included About Schmidt, Bowling For Columbine, 24 Hour Party People (released next week), Punch-Drunk Love (released in April), and The Pianist.

The 14 person jury was headed by director David Lynch (Mulholland Drive) and included Martin Scorsese (the director of Gangs Of New York), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Tilda Swinton (The Deep End) and Sharon Stone.  They would decide the winner of the Palm D’Or.  Recent winners included Dancer In The Dark, Secrets & Lies, Pulp Fiction and The Piano.  After deliberation, their selection as winner of the Palm D’Or was… The Pianist.

Adrien Brody shines in his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman.  He is the only featured actor in the film and he appears in almost every scene.  Living in Poland, he was a beautiful pianist who was well known and played regularly on the radio.  Then World War II began.  The film isn’t directly about the war and its horrors, it’s more about Szpilman’s place within the war.  We only see things from his perspective and I enjoyed this decision made by the filmmakers.  There’s a part in the film where he lives in a locked apartment for several months with a view overlooking a hospital.  In the cinema, that’s all we see too.  We don’t know the progress of the war, we don’t understand what’s going on outside and it’s as it should be.

The Pianist plots Szpilman’s quest to stay alive.  When the war begins, he and his wealthy Jewish family are forced to leave their home and move into a Warsaw ghetto where all Jewish people are ordered to live.  As conditions deteriorated and numbers grew, families were rounded up and sent to Nazi labour camps and other places of horror.  His family would perish but with the help of a police officer, Szpilman was able to escape.  There would be many more years of suffering and many close shaves but Szpilman continued his fight for survival.

Director Roman Polanski (Chinatown) has made a great film but the real star is Adrien Brody.  His performance is incredible and you can he is devoted to the cause of this movie.  He looks terrible in the later scenes and it’s not just from make-up.  His Oscar nomination for best actor is well deserved and I’ll be rooting for him when the winners are announced in two weeks.  Polanski has been nominated in the best director category but won’t be able to attend the ceremony since he’s wanted in America on a statutory rape charge from 1977.  I won’t comment any further on that matter.

There are a few minor luls but generally, it’s a very interesting film given the way it is told.  There’s an abundance of films showing stories of war heroism but this is uncommercial and different.  It’s based on Szpilman’s own biographical novel and Polanski’s own parents lived in Poland and were taken to German concentration camps (his mother died there).  The Pianist is a film you won’t easily forget.