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A haunting film, one that you won't forget
Dan Grant27 March 2003
I can remember when this film came out I was adamantly against seeing it. I had my preconceived notions that it would be some other heroic Jewish Holocaust film where good triumphs over evil and in between we would see some brutal atrocities committed by the Germans to add some flavour.

How wrong I was.

This is one of the best films I have ever seen and what it did to me I cannot describe in words. But in a nutshell, it moved me, made me cry, made me feel like I was in the Polish ghetto in 1940, and ultimately made me kiss the sidewalks as I walked out of the theater and thanked God that I live in the free society that I do.

Roman Polanski has proved that he is a great director with films like Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby but this is his crowning achievement. I think the fact that this won the awards that it did at this years Oscars goes a long way to validate the brilliance of this film. I believe that the Oscar's are rigged for the most part and films and actresses and such win based more on their pedigree or business associations than anything else, so when it won best actor and director and adapted screenplay this year, it tells you that it should have won best picture but the Weinsteins seem to have a spell over everyone, hence a charlatan like Chicago takes top prize. Sorry for the digression here but when you compare a "film" like Chicago to a masterpiece like The Pianist, there really is one clear cut winner. They handed out the statue to the wrong movie.

The Pianist follows up and coming piano player Wlad Spielzman from his days as a local hero to a prisoner of war to his time in the ghettos, surviving only by the kindness of strangers. I think many people have touched on this before but what makes this film so amazing and well crafted is because Spielzman is a man that we can all relate to. He is not a hero, he is not a rebel and he is not a kamikaze type that wants and lusts after revenge. He is a simple man that is doing everything in his power to stay alive. He is a desperate man and fears for his life and wants to stay as low as he can. Only from the succor he receives from others does he manage to live and breathe and eat and hide. And this is how I related to him. If put in his position, how would I react? Exactly the way he did. This is a man that had everything taken from him. His livelihood, his family, his freedom and almost his life. There is no time for heroics here. Adrien Brody embodies the spirit of Spielzman and his win at this years Oscars was one of the happiest moments I have had watching the festivities. His speech was even better but that is a topic for another time.

Ultimately it is his gift of music that perhaps saves his life and the final scene that he has with the German soldier is one of the most emotionally galvanizing scenes I've witnessed. With very little dialogue, it is in the eyes, the face, the mouth and the sounds that chime throughout their tiny space that tell you all you need to know. I think it is this scene that won Brody his Oscar. This is one of the all time great performances.

I think Polanski spoke from the heart here. He has taken a palette of memories and amalgamated them with what he has read and given us one of the best films of our generation and any other. I think The Pianist will go down as one of the best films of this century and when all is said and done, Chicago will be forgotten the way Ordinary People was forgotten and when people talk about the film The Pianist, they will do so with reverence and respect. This is a cinematic masterpiece.

10 out of 10
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Excellent, depressing, but excellent
Kristine1 November 2004
Man, I can not get this film out of my head. It is so rare that a movie can affect me the way "The Pianst" did. The last movie that did that was "Casino". I was really tired when I was watching the movie. It was almost midnight, so I was thinking that I'll start watching and I'll finish it in the morning. Did I? No, indeed I did not stop watching. I couldn't stop it. I just wanted to see what would happen next. I cried during "Schindler's List", I sobbed in this film. Everything that happens in this film is so sad. Adrien Brody does a remarkable job of acting in this film. I would very highly recommend this film. Especially if you are a history buff. Please, I think this film should be in the top 10 best films of all time.

I looked on the message boards you know and some other user comments that didn't enjoy this film much, they criticized Adrien Brody's performance and say that he was boring and only showed emotions that are easy to act. Please, you have got to be kidding me. This man portrayed the total feeling of hopelessness, being alone, being hated. I one time had an audition in high school like this to see if I could improvise, and the way I imagined this feeling is like in dodgeball where you have no one else on your team and you're the only one left standing, yet on the other team there is 20 big men that are just waiting to wack that ball at you. Adrien couldn't have done a better job, I was so frightened for him and cried for him during the whole film while he was one the run.

Roman Polanski as the director, he himself escaped the terrors of being a prisoner in The Holocaust, yet he lost his mother and other family members. Yes, I'm sure this film must have been hard to re create for him, but he was probably the only director that could have done this movie as brilliantly as he did. He created this story and made it so effective, I called up my mom and told her that I loved her so much because we take so many things for granted. True, this isn't the 1930's or 40's, and we are in America. But it's still frightening to think that human beings are capable of that much hate and being so brutal to another human.

World War II is one of the most frightening wars in history, if you read more about The Holocaust, you get more into it and you should. If you are not interested, then watch this film. It's a must see, otherwise how else will we learn from our mistakes? The Pianist is a beautiful and extremely dark tale about a man and the struggle to survive. The ending is so powerful and moving to know that sometimes one man can make a difference in a crowd of so many and I'm not talking about Adrien Brody's character. You'll see what I mean.

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An astonishing film
FilmOtaku28 April 2003
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.

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10 out of 10
Alexandra Jones20 January 2003
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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Definitively an inspiring epic...
Nazi_Fighter_David6 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
'The Pianist' is definitively an inspiring epic that celebrates the tenacity and fortitude of the human spirit... It is a remarkable tale of human survival sensitively brought to life by Polanski... The film carries us to the horrible reign of terror, where condemned people wearing the emblem of humiliation and oppression, are deprived of their rights, their human values and dignity, before being shipped to 'labor camps.'

In Polanski's movie all the conventional elements of the drama are at peaks of excellence:

Family union: When a father has to bargain to buy a single piece of caramel and divide it in six pieces to share it with each member of his family...

Starvation: When a ghetto inhabitant assaults a helpless woman for a bowl of soup...

Confusion: When a distraught woman wails on a platform because she smothered the cries of her baby with her hand...

Love: When a young musician turns to his younger sister and utters with sad regret, "I wish I knew you better."

Survival: When one man observes the war through his hide-outs around the city...

Cruelty: When an old man in a wheelchair is thrown off the balcony by the Nazis because he failed to stand upon their entrance...

Fear: When a talented musician sits down at the old piano, and pretends to play his music, keeping his fingers flowing with control above the vertical ivories...

Discrimination: When bored Nazi guards entertain themselves by forcing grotesquely mismatched old and sick couples to dance to a Jewish street band by the ghetto gate...

Horror: When condemned Jewish workers lie face-down in the street, while one SS guard walks down the line, shooting without remorse each one in the back of the head...

Isolation: When a fugitive emerges from his harrowing hiding place and walks through a field of deserted ruins exactly like the last man alive on Polish soil..

Adrien Brody gives an absolutely moving performance (based on descriptive facial expressions) as the Polish composer and pianist who stays alive as a Jew, and remains true to his ideals... Brody captures the character's desperation, his anger and grief, his willpower and perseverance, his passion and love of music... Polanski gives us the chance to better know his shock and disbelief, his ordeal and tragedy, his hope for fairness and humanity...

Nominated for seven Academy Awards, this captivating drama went on to win three Oscars, including Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay... Once Brody took the stage to accept his Oscar, he was so overwhelmed with happiness, that he swept the gorgeous Academy Award-winning Halle Berry off her feet with a long, steamy kiss...
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Adrien Brody's Minimalist Acting Packs Maximum Emotional Punch
This wrenching yet ultimately uplifting fact-based drama won Adrien Brody his Academy Award and finally made him a star (along with his gracious yet heartfelt Oscar speech and That Kiss :-) -- rightly so, since title character Wladyslaw Szpilman is a challenging role in so many ways! It's not easy to command the screen when your character often has to be passive, deliberately trying not to draw attention to himself to keep from falling into Nazi hands in war-torn Poland, but Brody pulls it off. It helps that Brody is absolutely stellar at acting with his eyes, plus his body language speaks volumes; these fill in the emotional cracks, especially in scenes where Szpilman, alone and in hiding, can't speak or even move around much for fear of giving himself away. (Brody is the youngest actor to date to win the Best Actor Oscar, BTW, having gotten his little gold man only a month before his 30th birthday.) While there's no lack of haunting scenes, thanks to the deservedly Oscar-winning work of director Roman Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood, the one that always gets me is the one where Szpilman discovers the apartment serving as his latest `safe house' has a piano. We see Szpilman sit at the piano; we see him in a head-and-shoulders shot, shoulders moving; we hear piano music and gasp as we fear his love and longing for music is about to give him away -- and then we see his hands moving in the air just above the keyboard and realize, with both relief and a pang of regret, that the music is only in Szpilman's head. Terrific as the other 2002 Best Actor nominees were, now that I've seen THE PIANIST (as well as the fascinating making-of documentary on the DVD's flip side, showing what a physically and emotionally grueling experience Brody's job often was), I'd be really p***ed off if anybody but Adrien Brody had won! (Besides, the rest of the 2002 Best Actor nominees already won Oscars -- this time it was dark horse Brody's turn! :-)
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To hell and back.
jotix10021 January 2003
The Pianist is an incredible film in many aspects. Roman Polanski's account of the survival of the pianist, Wladyslaw Szpilman, is a document about how one man can overcome the worst possible situations in a world gone completely mad around him.

The only fault one can find with the adaptation of Mr. Szpilman's story by playwright Ronald Harwood, is the fact that we never get to know the real Wladyslaw Szpilman, the man, as some of the comments made to this forum also have indicated.

There is a very interesting point raised by the the pianist's father who upon reading something in the paper, comments about how the Americans have forgotten them. Well, not only the Americans, but the rest of the world would not raise a finger to do anything for the people that were being imprisoned and made to live in the confined area of Warsaw. The exterminating camps will come later.

What is amazing in the film, is the frankness in which director Polanski portrays the duplicity of some Jews in the ghetto. The fact that Jews were used to control other Jews is mind boggling, but it was a fact, and it's treated here matter of factly. Had this been made by an American director, this aspect would have never surfaced at all. Yet, Mr. Polanski and Mr. Harewood show us that all was not as noble and dignified as some other films have treated this ugly side of war.

Wladyslaw Szpilman, as played by Adrien Brody, is puzzling sometimes, in that we never get to know what's in his mind. He's a man intent in not dying, but he's not a fighter. He accepts the kindness extended to him. He never offers to do anything other than keep on hiding, which is a human instinct. He will never fight side by side with the real heroes of the ghetto uprising. His role is simply to witness the battle from his vantage point in one of the safe houses across the street from where the action takes place.

Adrien Brody is an interesting actor to watch. As the pianist of the story he exudes intelligence. There is a scene where Szpilman, in one of the safe houses he is taken, discovers an upright piano. One can see the music in his head and he can't contain himself in moving his fingers outside the closed instrument playing the glorious music from which he can only imagine what it will sound in his mind.

The supporting cast is excellent. Frank Findlay, a magnificent English actor is the father of the pianist and Maureen Lipman, another veteran of the stage, plays the mother with refined dignity.

In watching this film one can only shudder at the thought of another conflict that is currently brewing in front of our eyes. We wonder if the leaders of the different factions could be made to sit through a showing of The Pianist to make them realize that war is hell.
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Brilliantly Narrated, Visually Stunning!
ashcoounter1 February 2003
Polanski has depicted the gory details of the holocaust without much restraint. But, the most wonderful aspect of the film is that the director has not lost focus of his story and instead of focusing too much on the holocaust horror he has weaved the true-life narrative of survival around devillish happenings.

Every single act of escapade Szpilman goes through is depicted like a drop of water on a barren desert. However, the Oasis in the driest desert comes in the end and it is here that Polanski captures the essence of human emotion. I had this very strong urge of jumping into the theater screen and magically adopting a character in the movie and doing something about the helplesness portrayed so convincingly.

Overall, Polanski has given a stunning visual narrative of the cold war. Survival indeed is a privilege though it is taken for granted today. Performances by Brody, Kretschmann deserve applause.

Pawel Edelman's camera work is moving and he has brilliantly captured the dark sadness in the visual canvas in an effective way. The lighting is amazing. Pre-dawn shooting schedule could have helped a great deal.

Hervé de Luze's editing work has ensured that the narrative does not slip away from focus. Most notable is the scene where the human bodies are lit on fire and the camera raises to show the smoke. The darkness of the smoke is enhanced and is used effectively to fade the scene out.

The scene where Brody's fingers move as he rests his hands on the bars of the tram handle only goes to show the brilliance of Polanski as a film-maker.

Great film that will be in the running for this year's Oscars. I will give it a 9 Out of 10.
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Stoic, haunting tale of survival
MisterWhiplash16 January 2003
The Pianist tells the story of such a man in war time Poland, played by Adrien Brody, who from start to finish sees his life literally getting worse and worse and worse- starts off with new rules from the Nazis, then the stars on the arms, followed by the Warsaw ghetto, and while there he could play in the restaurant, that too soon ended, as the trains arrived and took his family and anyone else he knew away. During this he narrowly escapes, and from then on the film in a sense almost becomes not exactly a holocaust film, but more like a cross of that as the element and the basic structure of something a-la in Cast Away: this includes stretches of scenes showing Brody simply trying to keep out of view of the Germans, either in a small apartment provided by helpful Polish Christians/Jewish resistance, or as a scavenger in the abandoned sections of the ghetto, all while feeling the old rhythm of the piano in his head and fingertips.

This is the kind of magnificent filmmaking that shows a director not only being as true to the story given to him (that of Painist Szpilman, based on his autobiography) but to his past as well- Roman Polanksi faced similar conditions as a boy in the early 40's, and has found the best line to show, never crossed or mis-stepped, in representing the characters and the period. There aren't any hints of tightened suspense, no clues as to where the film could veer to, it just is. The big difference to be seen between a film like this and Schindler's List is not just in the people and situations (Schindler's List was a film about two people, Schindler and Goeth, in the foreground while the Pianist is a total first person tale), yet also in the filmmaking qualities being here surely European. And while the accents on the Polish-Jewish actors sounds a bit too British, that is quite forgivable considering the scope of the project (thank heavens he didn't put in English speaking Germans).

In conclusion, Brody turns in a superb performance, and this indeed is in with Polanski's best, a deserved of 2002's Palme D'Or. Great music too. A+
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terrific movie, if relentlessly gritty and realistic
baba447137 April 2005
I remember seeing "Schindler's list" about ten years ago, and I remember how weird I felt for being almost completely unmoved by it. Although it showed the horrors of holocaust quite realistically, somehow it all seemed just a bit too fake and exaggerated. Characters were a bit off (I still can't decide who was more over the top, Schindler or Goeth), fake sentimentalism was all over the place, . While it was a work of art and an important reminder of true events that shouldn't be forgotten, on emotional level it just somehow failed to deliver.

Enter "The Pianist". With no Spielberg around to put his trademark sappy material, we finally have a movie that shows the true horror and tragedy of Jewish people in World War II. The story is told through the eyes of one man - Wladislaw Szpielman, Jewish pianist who works in a radio station in Warsaw during the German occupation of Poland. Together with him we watch his world getting torn apart, witness his family being taken away, his existence being reduced to bare essentials. Brody gives a subtle yet spectacular performance, his best work yet. And never once are we reminded that we are watching a movie. Everything is shown from Szpielman's point of view, and it is all very gritty and realistic. While Spielberg's rendition of German atrocities always had a slightly staged feel to augment their dramatic purpose, here they are so true to life there impact is much greater - you watch and are being reminded in horror that this things actually happened.

While being very hard to watch sometimes, this is a movie that "Schindler's List" was supposed to be. This movie doesn't judge anybody, or tries to explain anything - it shows historical events as a reflection of one man's fate, making a powerful testimony that stays with you long after the beautiful last shot and the end credits are over.
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the best holocaust movie ever made
9902439Claessens1 October 2002
last weekend, I saw Roman Polanski's The Pianist and what a movie. The grizzly reality feeling of the movie shell-shocked me in the first place but later on I recognized the pure feeling of the film: The horror what war does with innocent people truly is. the main story isn't about a war hero, but about people who don't want to die in this madness. Every aspect of the film is really done for an reason and in his place and you don't feel this as entertainment.

the music is what hit me the most. the classical tunes had such an enormous impact on me and portrayed the feelings of the main role of the pianist. The fact that there are no hero's in a war movie is for me more than a welcome benefit. No war in the world should have hero's who can't die. Everybody in this movie can die, every second of it. The scary moments are real scary.

bottom line: ten times as realistic as the also brilliant Schindler's list. and twenty times better than Saving private Ryan for the lack of hero's and there is no patriotism at all.

ten out of ten, best movie of 2002
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"You musicians don't make good conspirators."
classicsoncall3 February 2013
Warning: Spoilers
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.
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Robert J. Maxwell30 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Film makers have to step carefully when dealing with issues like the Nazi extermination program. There have been equally brutal programs of ethnic cleansing in places like Southeast Asia and Rwanda, in which hundreds of millions died, but nothing like this in Europe since the Middle Ages. The victims here were not only Jews but Gypsies, the mentally ill, homosexuals, socialists, communists, and political undesirables. The Nazis eliminated not six million but some uncountable number between 12 and 15 million. An event like that can't be treated lightly and milked for easy tears, or the event itself is cheapened.

Fortunately, the films that have explored the subject have been uniformly well done, as Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" is well done. Polanski himself suffered in much the same way as the protagonist, Vlad Szpilman (Adrien Brody). Polanski has a habit of embellishing his tales but there's no question that in this instance he knows what he's talking about.

Szpilman is a well-known young pianist on Warsaw radio but the German occupation puts the station out of business. He and his family are herded into the Warsaw ghetto where they are subject to constant abuse and occasional murder. Szpilman barely escapes being sent to Treblinka with the rest of his family. And for the last half of the film, with the help of some friends who endanger themselves by lending him aid, he scuttles rat-like from one hiding place to another, each more dismal and perilous than the last. He suffers jaundice, his hair and beard grow long, his clothes turn to tatters, his food disappears, he's half frozen, and he seems to shrink.

He's reduced to living in the attic of a nearly demolished apartment building and is ecstatic to discover a gallon can of pickles overlooked on the top shelf of a kitchen cabinet. The can falls out of his hands while he tries to open it and rolls across the floor to come to rest at the boots of a German officer, Captain Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann). The only Germans we've seen so far have been brutes -- ridiculing the insane, executing Jews who ask simple questions, or simply shooting people chosen at random.

We expect nothing from Hosenfeld except a quick shooting. But Hosenfeld is a human being and, having discovered that Szpilman "is" -- or rather "was" -- a pianist, he asks him to play a piano left in one of the flats. Szpliman has been unable to play for years and when he seats himself we worry that he might not bring it off and, indeed, his first chords are tentative, uncertain. Then his playing becomes automated, the old habits return, and he dashes off a dramatic and exquisitely executed piece of Chopin. Hosenfeld has been leaning back, enjoying the music, then leaves Szpilman quietly to his attic. He returns a few times later, before the Germans withdraw before the Russians, and unceremoniously hands him a few packages of food and, finally, his overcoat. The matter-of-fact compassion shown by Hosenfeld, and Szpilman's desperate need for contact with another human, are very moving.

When the Russian troops finally arrive, Szpilman stumbles out of his hovel to greet them, but seeing his overcoat the Russians open fire on him. Szpilman finally convinces them that he is a Pole, not a German, and one of the befuddled soldiers asks, "Then why the ****ing coat?" Szpilman is trembling with fear but manages to gulp, "I was cold." An epilogue tells us that Szpilman went on with his career and Hosenfeld wound up in a Soviet prison camp where he died in 1952, despite Szpilman's attempt to find him. Under the end credits, a smiling Szpilman plays a lively, sparkling composition by Chopin.

It's a remarkable film. Polanski is no longer the Wunderkind but a mature film maker. Nothing is excessive. We need only as much as we need to know to understand Szpilman's travails -- one tragedy following another. There are no sentimental speeches at the final parting of Szpilman and his family. Szpilman himself never breaks down. He simply does what needs to be done to survive. And Adrien Brody captures what Szpilman must have been like. (From some angles he resembles the young Arthur Rubenstein.) Kretschmann gets Hosenfeld down pat as well. In their scenes together we sense their respective positions -- one man with nothing left to lose, the other with nothing left to gain. The story, and the historical facts it's based on, raise many questions about human nature, of course. I'm not at all sure that if we could find the answers to those questions we would like what we found.

One of the better films of the year.
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Amazing movie
BluDiMado19 October 2012
I believe this movie to be one of the most excellent movies of our times. It has several aspects that make it especially great. Firstly, the music, the most important feature of this movie, in my opinion. Chopin nocturnes and polonaises are perfectly chosen and arrayed to create an unforgettable atmosphere. In one scene, they even take time to play the whole piece of music, without interfering. Secondly, the actors in the movie: none of them are/were really well known, but WOW! (for lack of a better word). Thirdly, it's one of the few movies, where you can actually watch the credits (forever) and wish the movie wouldn't end.

Personally, I think it's a perfect 10/10.
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Less 'cinematic' yet more affecting than "Schindler's List" ...
ElMaruecan821 June 2012
To think that I avoided "The Pianist" for about 10 years because I expected a new "Schindler's List"! And I don't even mean that negatively.

I've watched Spielberg's film several times and know too well how painful Holocaust movies are, and while "Life is Beautiful" was a tragicomic fable and "Sophie's Choice" more of a character study relating a traumatic experience, I knew "The Pianist" would be on the same level of ambition and seriousness than Spielberg's film, if only because it was directed by Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor himself. I knew the movie would feature shocking arbitrary executions and poignant separations, so in a way, "The Pianist" was already having an impact on me without watching it. But this is not the only reason why I didn't feel the urge to watch it.

Part of the blame is to be put on the film itself although it was inevitably going to be compared with its 'glorious' predecessor. Speaking of my own experience, I was mislead by "The Pianist" and the movie trailers. I thought it was the story of a man who played music for the Nazis and his survival, and therefore found in the present's horror and gloominess a heaven of escapism in the inner, universal and timeless beauty of music. Wladislaw would have the state of mind of one of Schindler's factory workers with music as the same weapon as Guido's humor and optimism in "Life is Beautiful". Of course, I realize now how my preconceived ideas totally underestimated Roman Polanski and I hope this review redeems my 10 years of abstinence.

First, one must give to Spielberg what is Spielberg's and to Polanski what is Polanski's. "Schindler's List" is a better directed film but "The Pianist" is a better told story. And while the directing of Spielberg betrays sometimes the harshness of its subject by too much 'mise en scene', Polanski's ability to hook our hearts to the fate of Wladislaw Spillman, magnificently portrayed by Adrien Brody, and his family is beyond words. Indeed, we feel like part of this family. While the epic scope of "Schindler's List" provided a sort of moral aura to the victims, making the film a martyrdom's remembrance, "The Pianist" is simply the chronicles of a banal horror. And Polanski keeps an intimate, almost unnoticeable directing, to better convey the feeling that we're watching normal people whose lives are dramatically affected by an absurd War, and it's their very normality that emphasizes the cruelty of the Nazi treatment.

The film opens in Warsaw in September 1939 so those with a minimum of historical knowledge understand the implication. Wladislaw is playing Chopin in a studio when the first German bombings are heard, his family wants to leave but later, they learn in the radio that France and Britain entered the War. Relieved, they celebrate the news with a toast, and the relatively cheerful ambiance contrasts with the usual demonstrations of grief and pain. Of course, we know the worst is to come, but Polanski takes his time to get us immersed in the war's ambiance and letting us observe the progressive decline of the Spillmans, directly mirroring the atmosphere that probably prevailed within all the Jewish families.

Through the Spillman's perspectives, we get a more accurate idea of the nightmare endured by Polish Jews. When they're all parked in the Warsaw ghetto, before the inevitable evacuation, we witness gut-wrenching, intolerable, and acts of brutality, so unbelievably gratuitous and horrific, we never doubt that they're based on true stories, and that war, definitely, inspires the worst from humanity. In war, there's no room for dignity, for charity, for understanding, for God I would even say. As for violence, there is no scale, soldiers throwing off a balcony an old grandfather on a wheelchair because he couldn't stand is a horrifying sight, but maybe I expected these kind of moments so much that I was more shocked by the part where the soldiers made people dance together. Sometimes, humiliations are more impacting than random and arbitrary killings.

And again, the talent of Polanski is precisely not to have overplayed on the directing department: no 'Black and White', no special effects, no 'little girl in Red', just basic colors, as to sustain the feeling of a present, more real then more horrific. "Schindler's List" might be a better film for some, but it's still a film, while "The Pianist" is a survival story, raw and real. Not a hero, not a victim either, the main protagonist will sometimes count on his courage, sometimes on his good luck, sometimes on the help of good-hearted and understanding people, from any sides. There is a light of hope in the film, through music, at a time where humanity reached its lowest point, music was here to remind people, to remind Nazis what a waste the War was, a feeling incarnated by Adrien Brody's sad-looking eyes.

Again, don't expect a hero à la Oskar Schindler in Wladislaw, "The Pianist" shows the boldness of a period where cowardice was sometimes guided by survival instinct, where the desire to live could be more necessary than the desire to fight, because surviving left more voices to speak about the atrocities. "The Pianist" reveals those hidden subtleties that couldn't be truly expressed in epic movies. Some Jews didn't fight back precisely because the horrors of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Buchenwald had to be known, and ironically, this was one of the reasons that accelerated the exterminations' process. And some like Wladislaw had to hide not to make the sacrifices of the others unnecessary, those were tough times and no one is allowed to put a judgment... not us, anyway.

And this is why "The Pianist" is more affecting than "Schindler's List", and if one has any doubt, let's not forget, that Spielberg was born in 1946 while Roman Polanski is still a war survivor who lost his mother in a Death Camp.
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Sobering Depiction Of Warsaw Under German Occupation
sddavis634 November 2009
The first thing that should be said is that this is most definitely more than a Holocaust movie. Although that dreadful event stands firmly in the background, this movie is really about one man's struggle for survival. The one man is Polish Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman. Adrien Brody played that lead role, and he played it well. Szpilman comes across as both pitiful in his desperation to survive but at the same time as noble in his desperation to survive. Brody portrays him as a man with great dignity. It was a challenging role, because as the movie progresses, there's less and less dialogue for the simple reason that almost everyone except Szpilman has been taken by the Nazis. Brody ends up playing long stretches without voice, but it doesn't stop him from rendering a brilliant portrait of the man, whose friends and family are gone and who simply tries to live day by day hoping for a way out of this madness. Just as haunting are extended scenes in which director Roman Polanski simply shows us a devastated Warsaw - not just the Jewish ghetto, but other parts of the city as well. The scenes of rubble, the scenes of innocent people being gunned down in the street by German soldiers - sometimes just for sport, without any other obvious reason, the scenes of burned out buildings. It's all haunting.

For all that - and all that was very good - there was something about the story that didn't really click with me. For some strange reason I found it difficult to follow and I did think that at almost two and a half hours it was a little bit too long. As much as was accomplished in that running time could have been accomplished in two hours flat. It's a good movie, but just failed to reach the level of greatness that some have assigned to it. 6/10
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orangeisthenewawesome21 February 2011
My husband and I decided to watch this on netflix one night as we had heard it was good. Neither of us had any expectations and figured if it won a couple of Oscars it must be decent. I had no idea it was an absolute masterpiece.

This may be one of the best movies I have seen to date. Days after I saw this movie I cannot stop visualizing the images and feeling the emotions conveyed in the film. The cinematography is breathtaking. The beauty of pre-devastation Warsaw is sharply contrasted with the bleakness of the ghetto, and it would be understatement to say how haunting the visuals of Warsaw after the bombings were.

The acting here is tremendous. Brody (who I had really not seen in anything else significant prior to this) carries the entire movie on his wan shoulders. He conveys so much with pain, anguish, hope, and loss with just his eyes. It is quite the actor who causes the viewer to feel the pain he is experiencing as a character. This was an extremely well deserved acting Oscar.

This movie is extremely depressing considering the subject matter but it is told and portrayed with grace and power by Polanski. So many scenes are powerful and haunting. To me, in many ways this is a perfect movie. Yes, I know this review is filled with hyperbole, but I simply cannot remember the last time I was so moved and impressed by a film as I was with the Pianist. See it at least once.
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Shock appeal?
Derek23730 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
The Pianist is not a movie made for entertainment. It's either more or less than that and only the viewer can decide. You have to ask yourself sometimes if the main reason films about the holocaust are so popular is because of shock appeal. If a movie depicts these terrifying events well, does that make it a good movie? The Pianist has many scenes showing the Nazi's brutality that feel almost voyeuristic. Some scenes show Adrien Brody's character looking out the window at these terrible things and you feel as if you're looking out a window, too.

I hope shock appeal isn't the reason this film is liked so much, though. Because this is an amazing story about the will to survive. Music is the character's passion,and throughout his struggles he can only fantasize about playing piano. There is one scene near the end in which he finally gets the opportunity. What follows is a touching moment that transitions from rusty skills warming up to an intense and passionate display of artistic talent. In this moment there is no longer a war going on, no longer the agony of hunger or memories of lost loved ones, just beautiful music. His reputation as a musician and his desire to go on to play again is essentially what keeps him alive. And who says art isn't important?

Adrien Brody is very good in this. Well obviously he is, he just won the Best Actor Oscar. I think he can be compared to Tom Hanks in Cast Away- even in scenes of silence there's just something about the actor's movements and expressions that keeps you engaged.

There's another scene near the end that defines the entire performance, the entire movie for me: After all the trouble Brody went through trying to survive, he is almost killed by the people who would save him. He is wearing a coat that a German officer had given him earlier, and when Russian troops spotted Brody they thought he was German. They shot at him and almost killed him, but they finally found out he was Polish. An officer asks him, "Why the f-cking coat?" Brody, with his hands still in the air, a terrified look on his face, almost crying, replies: "I'm cold." That did it for me.

The Pianist is certainly a shocking and even depressing film, but like most movies that aspire to provoke thoughts and emotions, the audience takes out of it what they bring in to it. Surely Szpiellman wasn't just a lucky bastard who survived in times of inhumane brutality. It was through the kindness and compassion of others who helped him, if only because they found themselves inexplicably moved by his music.

My rating: 10/10
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Bland and Obscene
Paul Imseih8 February 2003
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.
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Move along, no story here
ftm68_9927 February 2003
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.
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Yet Another Holocaust Movie
giordana_0127 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I left "Schindler's List" haunted. I left "Life is Beautiful" incredibly sad. I left "The Pianist" bored and very, very sleepy.

I'm not saying the Holocaust isn't a worthy movie subject, but it's all been done before, and much better. There's not much to care about in "The Pianist". As told here, Vladek Szpielman's story isn't especially compelling or interesting. He survives the deprivation of the Warsaw ghetto, goes into hiding, endures more deprivation, then plays piano again. The end.

Szpielman seems strangely unaffected by the horror unfolding around him. He witnesses various atrocities, sees his family get deported, and watches 2 executions and a cremation, yet his facial expression never changes. He goes from starving before liberation to playing the piano on the radio afterward, with no explanation of what happened in between. And why does a man in hiding pull aside the curtains to watch a shooting outside?

I'm not afraid of a film where most of the action is internal (like "The Hours"), but this film has almost none of that. We get no clues about what Szpielman thinks or how he feels about anything. "Schindler's List" and "Life is Beautiful" convey the horrors of he Holocaust much more effectively, including their effect on the survivors. "The Diary of Anne Frank" tells a much better story about life in hiding.

To those who say Holocaust movies are needed as long as there are Holocause deniers, I can only say this; there literally hundreds of Holocaust movies out there. If a small number of people are still denying the existence of the Holocaust, making another 100 movies isn't going to convince them.
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Cinema is his Passion. The Pianist is his Masterpiece.
CinemaClown1 May 2011
Helmed by a Holocaust survivor himself yet presenting an objective take on the disturbing subject matter, The Pianist is the most personal film renowned director Roman Polanski has made in his decades-spanning career for it is crafted with meticulous care n attention, told with immaculate simplicity & also happens to feature one of cinema's most extraordinary performances.

Based on the memoir of the same name & set in Warsaw during the Second World War, The Pianist tells the story of Władysław Szpilman; a Polish-Jewish musician who after avoiding deportation to Nazi labour camps tries to elude capture by living in the ruins of his city. The plot details his miraculous survival against all odds which wouldn't have happened without the kindness of few compassionate humans.

Directed by Roman Polanski, The Pianist does bring back the horrors of the Holocaust and never shies away from depicting the barbaric treatment millions of Jews underwent during Nazi occupation. But it's not a tale about someone who caused an uprising or put his life on the line to save others but through one person, it tries to capture what most people under same circumstances were trying to do: survive, no matter what it takes.

Polanski does manage to infuse his own history into the story but never lets that distract his own vision for the picture at hand, and there in lies the true beauty of this survival story. It's arguably the finest film that he's made & certainly the most artistic. Adding more strength to the feature is the brilliantly-written screenplay that keeps the focus on our protagonist at all times & resonates the brutality that millions underwent through his own life story.

Coming to the technical aspects, every single element only ends up enhancing the entire experience. Production Design team does a superb job in recreating the war-torn city & set pieces are refined to smallest of details. Cinematography makes impeccable use of camera in capturing every frame plus the cold colour temperature encapsulates the whole film with a bleak mood. Editing paces its 149 minutes of runtime with precision. And classical music is beautifully incorporated into the narrative.

Another thing that seals the destiny of The Pianist is the exceptional performance by Adrien Brody in the role of Władysław Szpilman that simply exceeded every expectation. Perfectly capturing not just the feeling of hopelessness, loneliness, grief & living under constant fear but also the desperation, survival instinct & passion for music, what Brody delivers here is one of cinema's most memorable performances that still ranks as his best and his Academy Award win for this role was deserving in every manner.

On an overall scale, The Pianist marks the career high moment for Roman Polanski & Adrien Brody, is an emotionally devastating & powerfully moving cinema that's worthy of all the accolades it has garnered so far, and is amongst the finest examples of historical drama in existence. It certainly isn't going to be an easy sit for most but you'll be a better person for having done because some films, no matter how difficult, deserve to be viewed, and Roman Polanski's magnum opus is definitely one of those cinematic treasures. Strongly recommended.
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Film and Music, Pain and Fire
tedg21 April 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Nearly any film is for me a double experience: the watching and the post-coital rumination. That second phase can make the experience worthwhile even when the film itself is ordinary or poorly done.

But it works the other way as well, especially when a film is designed for discussion: the film delivered with so many opinions that themselves are ordinary or poorly done. This film comes so charged. Szpilman wasn't `Jewish enough' to be the center of an important holocaust film, goes the most ordinary and loudest of them. I suppose there are some things about the commingling of descriptive art and definitive life to be said there. But one likes to have more freedom in post-film thoughts and that whole topic is dominated by the sorts of reflexive responses manipulated by film.

There's a second prepackaged topic concerning whether `Schindler' was better or `worse.' I don't consider Spielberg's film a holocaust film at all: he lives in a happy world, where justice and right (and lots of other happy values) always triumph. His observations are always external. His goal is always to tell a story, a stance that furthers the distance between his films and reality. Polanski's project has no story at all, merely a life of accidents. His camera is within the artist's personal space. His own mannerisms are Eastern European and depressed, congruent with what he shows. (Speilberg's Schindler really did have the silk unctuousness of the East, but as observed from California.) So I credit Polanski's vision as having more historical credibility than Speilberg's, knowing that despite the best efforts of us all to avoid having practical history made by the movie marketplace.

(One exception, where Polanksi is offensively theatrical: when Szpliman runs from the destroyed hospital, he faces a street of desolation as far as one can see, `High Noon'-wise.)

Much more interesting to my mind is the portrayal of an artist. Polanski has always been deeply self-referential in his work: always there is an examination of the artist within the art. And I make a minor hobby out of collecting film experiences that do this with music and mathematics because I have some personal experience to work with.

For those who don't know: Poland‘s pride is Chopin, who invented a relationship to the piano that not only defined modernity but reinvented everything about musical performance. (Film would follow this lead in 1941.) Chopin built pieces designed to be bent in performance, designed with empty rooms that a pianist could explore. Unlike, Bach for instance, where the magic of the performance was in attuning to Bach and his intent, the performer of Chopin really could bring his own soul to parity with God. Szpliman was a strong pianist, and therefore more than a national character, instead a reflection of the Polish heart.

Here, we watch this man compromise his own pride, eschew his religion, run away from every opportunity for dignity in order to keep his hands warm to play another day; and not just play, but play on the radio for Poles. So during this painful journey, we assume what we are meant to in films about tortured artists: that the pain we are watching will be transmuted by this man into great art that will lift us all. His own personal denigration - what is done to him and the denigrating choices he makes - are worth it overall.

This is where the fatal pessimism of Polanski stops, because he doesn't let us know the musical truth. This is not Szpilman‘s playing of course, but not much unlike him. Szpilman was a `safe' player, one who never had the strength or desire to add much to Chopin. That's why he was on the radio: his `interpretations' were unchallenging and palatable. But he would never have been considered an artist of note at all if he had not survived the perfect brutality of the Germans, whose own music, though sentimental was constrained in ways that Chopin's never was. The payoff is supposed to be that after his trials, the artist is now - theoretically - capable of expressing the pain and yearning of the world. That we are meant to so think is clear from the end, where he plays with the glow of Dreyfuss from `Music of the Heart.'

Ah, but not so. The sound we actually hear throughout is by Olejniczak, a similarly ordinary man. Szpilman did not in fact come through a better artist, but much worse: a meek pianist. `Shellshocked,' postwar contemporaries would say.

Contrast this with Artur Rubinstein. Jewish Pole of the previous generation, and the first giant to explore Chopin's rubato. He had his own dark nights, but not because the world was inhospitable. Listen to his recordings (freely available) compared to Szpilman‘s (hard to get) or even Olejniczak‘s on the soundtrack. These are two different universes. One is merely pleasant, the other life-altering.

Polanski has made some great films (including the under-appreciated `Ninth Gate'), and his thinking through of the intellectual reach of a project is extensive but he has ultimately let us down here. Implicit in much of modern Jewishness is the triumph of enrichment of the people through their tribulation. Perhaps that is true, but this film undermines the idea when selecting Szpilman as metaphor.

Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 4: Worth watching.
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