Pianist

Movie Review by Toby White

Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia Fox

Director: Roman Polanski

THE PIANIST is fantastic. It won the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002. But in the build up to the Oscars, the marketing machines that power a film’s nomination may pass this one by. Not for it’s subject matter but because it was made by Hollywood renegade Roman Polanksi.

Its subject matter needs no introduction. Opening during the Nazi occupation of Poland, pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (a flawless Adrien Brody in a complete u-turn from his breakthrough role in SUMMER OF SAM) and his family have to face the slow ‘screw-turning’ of Nazi racial policy. Evading the round-up that sends his family to the gas chambers, Szpilman’s fate rests on his talent as he is drafted in to work, escapes, hides and runs, constantly ducking in the shadows of a city as it slowly crumbles under the incessant conflict.

But, and I don’t mean to sound glib here, before you think that this is just another rehash of a subject already well-documented for its horror, read on. It’s not what is told, it’s the way it’s told. Polanski’s vision literally gives us the chance to experience this subjectively. Aside from following the movements of his key character to tell his story, everything that goes on around him – particularly the street battles, the murders, the executions – we see in single wide shots, often through a crack in a window or a chink in a door. Stepping back out again and simply watching the film, Brody’s exceptional performance as the naïve and utterly vulnerable protagonist leads a seemingly odd, but whole-heartedly convincing, ensemble cast including Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman and Thomas Kretschmann (oddly enough billed second despite having only about ten minutes screen time at the end, but compelling for it). It’s hard to believe it’s based entirely on fact, adapted from the real Szpilman’s book, making it all the more emotionally devastating.

Never one to woo the Academy, one hopes that Polanski’s opus receives due credit and, come February, ranks as the outsider in the nominations that everyone wants to get behind. This may be it’s saving grace at the box office and I pray that it entices audiences to flock to it for THE PIANIST is, quite simply, one of those works of art that truly opens your eyes.

5 out of 6 stars

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