Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002) is a true story of survival, and is often included in lists of the best films about the Holocaust. Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the film was also nominated for seven Academy Awards, eventually winning three: Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Its synopsis is as follows:
A brilliant pianist, a Polish Jew, witnesses the restrictions Germans 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 German Nazi labor camps, he escapes deportation and eludes capture by living in the ruins of Warsaw. (source)
Because I’m running out of time until it’s the end of the year and I really want to finish my Blindspot series before 2017 happens, here is a selection of my thoughts on The Pianist.
- The Pianist starts at the very beginning – Warsaw, 1939, just as Nazi Germany invades Poland.
- Beginning with a bang, we follow concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, played to perfection by Adrien Brody, as he struggles to survive one of the most horrific times in twentieth century history.
- I understand this was a very personal project for Polanski – being a Holocaust survivor, witnessing the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis first-hand in Poland, losing his mother, having survived against the odds in Krakow and Warsaw along with his father.
- In a sense, Szpilman’s story of survival can be contrasted with Polanski’s lived experience. Both men witnessed and survived so much terror. And when watching The Pianist, it feels so real. It makes you wonder how people did it (both the perpetrators and the survivors), and it makes you feel lucky.
- I wonder if recreating these events on screen helped Polanski to make sense of his traumatic experiences, but that’s just my counselling profession talking.
- I loved this film for so many reasons.
- Firstly, this is not the kind of Holocaust film where good triumphs over evil – Szpilman isn’t necessarily a hero, but he is a survivor. He keeps himself alive however he can, sometimes through sheer luck, and many times with help from non-Jewish people.
- Furthermore, there is no ‘torture porn’-esque violence that can be found in so many other films that focus on the Holocaust. The Pianist certainly contains violence, but it doesn’t feel excessive or exploitative.
- Secondly, the film is shot beautifully with Polanski’s critical and artistic eye, and masterful use of quiet and suspense. The scenes of ruined Warsaw are at once beautiful and devastating.
- Thirdly, Adrien Brody’s performance as Szpilman is 100% worthy of the Oscar he won. This is a quiet, contemplative, passionate, and desperate performance, and probably Brody’s best overall. He illustrates the line between animalistic survival and unwavering humanity in an absolutely beautiful way. You can’t take your eyes away from him.
- I can’t decide if this was my favourite film I’ve watched this year, but it’s definitely in the top five.
- The Pianist is bleak, gritty, realistic and somewhat depressing – however, it’s also hopeful, and not in a ‘rose tinted glasses’ kind of way. It makes you hope that nothing like this ever happens again.
- I just read that Chicago (2002) won the Oscar for Best Picture over this, and now I feel almost as angry as when Shakespeare in Love (1998) won instead of Elizabeth (1998). I was 11 at that time and even I knew it was rigged. Ridiculous!
Watch the trailer here.