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The Pianist
UK, Germany, France, Poland
Drama, Biography, History, War
IMDB rating:
Roman Polanski
Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman
Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld
Frank Finlay as Father
Maureen Lipman as Mother
Emilia Fox as Dorota
Ed Stoppard as Henryk
Julia Rayner as Regina
Wanja Mues as SS Slapping Father
Richard Ridings as Mr. Lipa
Nomi Sharron as Feather Woman
Anthony Milner as Man Waiting to Cross
Lucy Skeaping as Street Musician
Roddy Skeaping as Street Musician
Ben Harlan as Street Musician
Storyline: A brilliant pianist, a Polish Jew, witnesses the restrictions Nazis place on Jews in the Polish capital, from restricted access to the building of the Warsaw ghetto. As his family is rounded up to be shipped off to the Nazi labor camps, he escapes deportation and eludes capture by living in the ruins of Warsaw.
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Move along, no story here
If you think that movies that deal with Nazi atrocities are inherently worthwhile, then you might think that this movie is inherently worthwhile. If, on the other hand, you expect a movie, whether it deals with Nazi atrocities or not, to actually tell a story, then I'd say there's a good chance you *won't* find this movie worthwhile.

What does this movie give us? Well, it gives us a string of Nazi atrocities, very realistically depicted, and it gives us what I suppose is supposed to be a main character, but it gives us precious little else! Most of main character's screen time is given over to him being acted upon by circumstances and by other people, but very little of him being pro-active, himself. And even his passivity might be interesting if we knew what he was thinking or feeling. But we are never given that information. We never know what it is that he really wants. Or how he feels, say, about the fact that his family was shipped off to their probable death, but he was saved by a fluke.

The picture is certainly well-made from the stand point of art direction and cinematography, but story-wise, it's a shambles. As far as I'm concerned, Roman Polanski owes me big-time. Thank you.
The Pianist: A Cinematic Masterpiece about an Inspirational Man
The Pianist is about the Polish Jewish musician Wlad Spielzman, who struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto in World War II. The Nazis began by stripping the most basic rights of Jews, and became more malicious as the movie progressed. The Jews were later put into the Warsaw ghetto, where powerful scenes depict Jews lying dead in the streets and stronger people stealing food from weaker people just to survive. The Nazis took away the Jews' humanity, and the Warsaw ghetto followed the law of the jungle, where only the strongest survive.

From the Nazi revolution, Wlad Spielzman's reputation as local hero was swiftly reduced to a prisoner of war. He only survived from the kindness of his friends and his strangers. He doesn't have the heroic characteristics of seeking revenge against the Nazis for possibly murdering his family. Rather, he's a simple civilian who merely struggles to survive in the difficult Holocaust.

He relies on the music playing in his mind and channelling into his fingers to keep his sanity everyday he spent in hiding. His musical gift saved his life at the end of the movie, where the Nazi soldier spared his life because of the beautiful piano music he played.

The plot line in The Pianist is riveting, and Wlad Spielzman's story is truly inspiring. The Pianist is definitely a cinematic masterpiece, and is more than worthy of a 10/10 rating.
"You musicians don't make good conspirators."
Fortunately, I'm able to keep my personal feelings about Roman Polanski compartmentalized enough to say that this was a remarkable film. I've read many comparisons between "The Pianist" and "Schindler's List" on this board, and even though the films are quite different, the overpowering portrayals of Man's inhumanity against Man will leave the viewer forever affected. Adrien Brody's Best Actor award was stunningly achieved here, as his character arcs through an incredible series of circumstances to barely survive life in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. What little I knew of director Polanski outside of his marriage to Sharon Tate, the grisly Manson murders, and his rape conviction in the late 1970's, was put into an entirely different perspective when I learned about his own life in the Polish Ghetto. Much of what we see in the film must emanate from his own unique experience as a child during the War and experiencing Nazi atrocity first hand. I don't envy anyone who survived that experience enduring the painful daily memories of those times.

Given the film's title, I guess I was somewhat surprised by the paucity of musical sequences, though what was offered was artistically presented. Particularly poignant was the scene when Wladyslaw Szpilman (Brody) was left to hide in an apartment where a piano was available, and he mimed his way through a selection from memory by the need to maintain silence.

Many years following the end of World War II, a single film cannister simply marked "The Ghetto" was discovered, revealing valuable insight into how the Nazi propaganda machine attempted to manipulate public opinion about 'rich' Jews who lived in luxury alongside fellow Jews in squalid conditions. Even more intimate details of life in the Warsaw Ghetto are presented in "Shtikat Haarchion" (A Film Unfinished), describing conditions that are even more horrific than those depicted in "The Pianist" or "Schindler's List", if that can even be imagined. These movies exist for a higher calling as a constant reminder that the term "Never Again" be one to constantly take seriously in an ever increasingly dangerous world.
It's an official decree, no Jews allowed in the parks.
I have watched a lot of WWII films, but this is at the top of the list.

Don't take my word for it, it won three Oscars, and should have won Best Picture; it did win Best Picture at the BAFTA awards, along with a Best Director for Roman Polanski (Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby). This is Polanski's finest film by far.

Adrien Brody was magnificent, and his performance made you feel you were right there with him.

It wasn't a pretty picture, the outstanding cinematography notwithstanding. Bodies lie in the streets, and people just passed them by. People were shot for asking a simple question. A man was so hungry that when his attempt to steal a woman's soup resulted in it falling to the ground, he fell to the ground and lapped it up.

Amidst all the carnage and deprivation, Wladyslaw Szpilman (Brody) managed to survive until the end. An amazing story.
An astonishing film
The Pianist is the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, at the time Poland's most acclaimed pianist whose life is transformed during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw beginning in 1939. The film spans several years and maps his many personal trials in addition to providing the perspectives of his family, rebel factions and sympathizers.

Brilliantly directed by Roman Polanski and starring an amazing Adrien Brody, The Pianist is bound to garner comparisons to Schindler's List, for obvious reasons. However similar the subject matter, the approach is different. While Schindler's List was filmed in a beautiful, crisp black and white that offered many incredible images, The Pianist was filmed with almost muted color. Schindler's List featured what has been argued as a complicated hero. Oskar Schindler did save many Jews, but not without battling his own materialistic demons first. The Pianist's Szpilman is a sympathetic character throughout. His plight was desperate, and the demons he fought were over his own guilt in surviving a fight that eventually turns into a primal will to live.

Polanski does not spare the viewer any grief with his film. The horrific scenes between the Nazis and the Warsaw Jews were more terrifying and horrible than any horror/suspense movie I have seen in some time, possibly ever. The humiliation and complete loss is wrenching. In several scenes, Jews are lined up in the middle of the night and subjected to either torture or death. In one case, a woman asks of a Nazi officer, "What will happen to us?" and is promptly shot point blank in the head. The camera does not flinch or subdue any of these atrocities.

A mention must be made of Brody's performance. Having only previously seen Brody in two other films, Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam" and Terrence Malick's "The Thin Red Line" (a part that was supposed to be his launch into stardom before his part was unfortunately cut drastically) I knew his potential was great. After his Oscar win, I viewed this movie with more criticism than I normally would have and he certainly did not disappoint. He transcended my expectations. His physical transformation was amazing, but more importantly, he conveyed the sorrow of this man shockingly well - in both verbal and non-verbal contexts. It will be very interesting to see what kind of opportunities this role will afford him, and the kinds of roles he will accept.

Something worth mentioning is the affect this movie had on the audience with whom I viewed this film. Normally, when a film ends, the regular hardcore filmsters like myself will stay and watch the credits in their entirety. The rest of the audience stands up and leaves, usually to the chagrin of the remaining enthusiasts. This was one of the few times I have seen a film at a theater where not one person stood to leave during the final credits. It wasn't until the house lights came up at the end did people begin to disperse. Personally, I hightailed it out of the theater the second the lights came on because not only was my face a mess from crying during the film (Tammy Faye comes to mind) but I had this overwhelming need for an emotional release, so when I reached my car I sat and wept for about five minutes. It has been years since I have watched a film that upset me to that extent. Conversely, while discussing this film with my brother, (someone who loves movies as much and has similar tastes as I do) he mentioned that while he thought the movie was excellent, he wasn't as profoundly emotionally effected as I was. After thinking about this for a couple of days, I realized the difference: The music. As a classical music enthusiast and erstwhile musician, the thought of not being able to enjoy, much less play the music you love is a tragic one. Then the emotional outpouring that comes when you return to it - there aren't words to describe how intense that is. Not having the same appreciation for this musical genre, one will be able to sympathize with the physical and emotional tribulations, but perhaps not in the musical sense.

The Pianist was truly an astonishing film. I was riveted from start to finish and so emotionally affected that I couldn't even consider writing a review until a week later. Having said that, I am filing this away with my list of movies which include Schindlers List and Philadelphia, as films that I love but cannot rewatch for a long time after due to their intensely emotional content.

My favorite Polanski film
Perhaps my "Summary" is a joke because I have only seen 3 of Polanski's movies. Chinatown (9 out of 10) and Rosemary's Baby (7 out of 10) But The Pianist might as well be my favorite whether I have seen many of his films are not, for The Pianist is truly excellent. Sad but never boring or pretentious. Polanski seems to be a fan of bad (upsetting)endings so that left me worried to watch the end. I will not spoil it but watch every minute of this movie. Brody got the Oscar that he truly deserved and the film deserved Best Picture over Chicago, LOTR: Two Towers, was in the race so I choose that over this. I just cannot wait to own this movie.
gripping though flawed drama

`The Pianist' is a bit like `Schindler's List' as seen from the inside out. The one flaw in that earlier film always seemed to be that, by choosing to make a Gentile – Oskar Schindler - the protagonist in his film, Spielberg turned the Jews themselves almost into background players in their own story. That doesn't happen with `The Pianist' since the hero in this case happens to be himself a Jew – the real life Polish pianist and composer Wladyslaw Szpilman - who managed, through strength, determination and the assistance of a number of brave and caring individuals, to survive the horrors of that darkest and most inexplicable chapter in 20th Century history.

This is not to say that `The Pianist' is a better film than `Schindler's List' – far from it. For while this latest work from Roman Polanski is a fascinating tale of survival in its own right, the film lacks the moral and psychological resonance that made Spielberg's work such a universally acclaimed masterpiece. Because Schindler was an outsider looking in, he was forced to make the kind of moral choices that Szpilman never really faces in the situations in which he finds himself. In fact, the one time that the protagonist is confronted with such an option – having to decide whether or not to betray his people by joining the Jewish police whose job it is maintain order in the Warsaw ghetto – Szpilman flat out declines the offer. This may, indeed, be the way circumstances played themselves out in real life, but this elimination of any kind of psychological depth makes `The Pianist' seem frustratingly superficial at times.

Although the film isn't as rich and powerful as it might have been, `The Pianist' is still exceptional on a lot of different levels. First of all, Polanski and his screenwriter, Ronald Hardwood, both of whom won Oscars for their work here, capture the brutality and sadism of the Nazi regime with frightening candor and almost `reportorial' objectivity. As in `Schindler's List,' people in this film die in very believable, very graphic ways. Particularly interesting are the early sections of the film in which we witness the gradual steps leading up to the eventual deportation and extermination of the Warsaw Jews, beginning with the curtailment of Jewish civil rights, then to the branding of them with stars of David on their clothing, then to their imprisonment in the Warsaw ghetto, and, finally, to the inexorable walk to the gas chamber. `The Pianist' doesn't take us that far on screen, but we sure sense the presence of those death camps in the loss of Szpilman's entire family. `The Pianist' brilliantly recreates this shameful era in recent human history and does so without becoming sentimental and pretentious in the process.

Adrian Brody won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance here, and he is very good indeed, especially given the fact that the role calls for him to be more of a reactor to the events around him than a catalyst. Polanski and Hardwood have provided this fine young actor with a veritable tour de force assignment that he executes with a great deal of skill and aplomb. Unfortunately, a number of the other characters - particularly those who go out of their way to help him - remain stubbornly enigmatic throughout.

`The Pianist' is an honorable addition to the list of fine films that have attempted to come to grips with the subject of the holocaust. But, for my money, the best still remains `The Shop on Main Street,' the Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language film of 1965. This superb Czech film does what `The Pianist' is never quite able to do, which is to find a way to involve us in the momentous moral dilemmas that undoubtedly faced many of the people involved in this life-and-death event. `The Pianist,' by making its tale strictly a story of survival and not a study of human psychology, fails to illuminate much of what we really need to know about that time. And about ourselves.
Bland and Obscene
So this film has won the Palme D'Or? I didn't see any reason why...

The film is well executed in its use of the usual Hollywood visual clichés, rendered in a more "European" style. A fusion of the worst of Hollywood and the worst of Europe. The result unfortunately is even less than the sum of its parts.

I am extremely concerned by the lack of any real ideas beneath the thin veneer of story. I felt that the film rubbed my nose in one awful even after the other while presenting only caricatures (or often no characterisation at all) of the participants and victims - especially the German characters. So we have caricatures versus caricatures, without a caricaturist's sense of humour or insight.

I found these caricatures quite obscene - they obscured the fact that the Germans who committed such atrocities were ordinary men and women - not merely evil-laughing "monsters". That European Jews who survived this period went on to murder and torture Palestinians and reproduce the exact same ghettos imposed on them for every year since 1945 is testament to that. I wonder if I'd win the Palme D'Or by switching the roles and making a film about the Israeli organised Chatila massacres or atrocities by the Israeli Army in the West Bank?

The result is that the real power of the film was completely lost in the process of presenting the facts of Szpilman's experience of that period. I found no insights in this movie - either into art/music nor the Holocaust, and certainly nothing about Szpilman.

Is it true to fact in its unrelenting depiction of atrocities committed? I didn't care anymore after 30 minutes. I am no historical revisionist so after the 4th violent atrocity in the first section, not only these acts, but the whole film became silly and patronising.

A far more unsettling and profound film about evil, art, personal responsibility and racism from this period is definitely István Szabó's "Taking Sides". It leaves Polanski's film far behind in every filmic and intellectual aspect.

The Holocaust compels us to think and act, even if entirely beyond comprehension. In this regard, Polanski's movie is both bland and abhorrent.

And no, I don't mean that to be a complement.
Heavy subject matter frightens people. Few dared say an unkind word about Philadelphia (AIDS!) when it first came out, regardless of the fact that it was dreadful. Folks seem similarly reluctant to find fault with The Pianist (The Holocaust!), though it's a far superior film.

Being a survivor himself, Polanski is to be applauded for his clear-eyed depiction of life and death in the Jewish ghetto, but his matter-of-factness had a curiously distancing effect on me. I felt uninvolved. It was also a brave move to omit subtitles from the German dialogue, but getting the gist of what is being said is not the same as understanding and once more I felt left out.

Further, many of the events leading to changes in Szpilman's situation remain unclear. On other occasions, Polanski labours his point and I just wanted him to move on to the next episode. He's a very good director, but he won the Oscar amidst a very weak field (and I include Scorsese's work on Gangs Of New York) - remember that this is the same body of people that anointed Ron Howard 'best director' a year previously.

Impressive at times, but uneven and occasionally sluggish and frustrating.
10 out of 10
The Pianist is an account of the true life experience of a Polish pianist during WW2, in the context of the deportation of the Jewish community to the Ghetto of Warsaw, a setting virtually absent from all films inspired on WW2.

Polanski (himself a child survivor of the Krakow and Warsaw ghettos) could have described in more detail the legendary, desperate fighting of the Jewish resistance in the ghetto of Warsaw, or the horrific mass extermination in concentration camps. Instead, the film gains in intensity by displaying the war from the pianist's own point of view (through windows, half-opened doors, holes in the walls - with big emphasis on the use of "point of view shooting" by the cameraman). One cannot help feeling disturbed by the most enthralling scenes of the film, as the isolated pianist tries to ensure his survival in the ghetto and ruins of Warsaw, hiding and fleeing, moving from one bombed house to the next, gradually becoming a shadow of his former self, hungry and afraid (merit largely attributed to the extraordinary performance by Adrien Brody, who visibly loses half of his weight throughout the film).

Does the pianist raise any sympathy from the audience? Not immediately, in my view. The pianist is more than often a drifting character, almost a witness of other people's and his own horrors. He seems to float and drift along the film like a lost feather, with people quickly appearing and disappearing from his life, some helping generously, others taking advantage of his quiet despair, always maintaining an almost blank, dispassionate demeanour. One may even wonder why we should care in the least about this character. But we do care. That is, I believe, the secret to this film's poetry.

In one of the strongest scenes, towards the end, a German officer forces the pianist to play for his life, in an episode that suddenly brings a much lighter, beautifully poetic shade to the film (this German officer will be probably compared to Schindler, although his philanthropy does not quite share the same basis).

This is also a wonderful tribute to Polish artists, through Chopin's music, with the concert at the very end of the film and the opening performance by the pianist at the local radio station (with the sound of bomb explosions in the background) forming an harmonious link between the beginning and end of the film (following Polanski's usual story-frame).

Overall, The Pianist is one of the most detailed and shocking accounts of the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis, with the atmosphere in Warsaw well captured and believable. Quite possibly, The Pianist will remain in the history of film-making as the most touching and realistic portraits of the holocaust ever made.

Polanski's film deserves a strong presence in the 2003 Oscar nominations, including a nomination for Adrien Brody's amazing performance, Polanski's sublime direction, best adapted screenplay and, obviously, best picture. This could be, at last, Polanski's long awaited, triumphal comeback to the high and mighty Hollywood.
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