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I've watched "The Pianist" twice since it's 2002 release, and felt compelled to write a review after watching it tonight. This is a well-directed Holocaust movie by Roman Polanski, and the stellar acting by Adrien Brody [who deservedly won an Oscar for his role] makes "The Pianist" a truly memorable viewing experience.

The story is based on the real-life experiences of Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman [played by Adrien Brody] during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw in WW II. The movie follows him from his piano playing days at Polish Radio, through the restrictions imposed upon the Jews by the Nazis, the move by Szpilman and his family to the Warsaw ghetto,how he is saved from deportation [whilst the rest of his family gets deported to Treblinka, an extermination camp], his role in the Jewish resistance movement, and finally his struggles in hiding on the Aryan side of Warsaw till war's end.

The brutality of the Nazis is very effectively portrayed - scenes of Nazi violence against the Jews are usually portrayed in brief but potent scenes, leaving an indelible mark in the viewer's memory. One particular scene still haunts me - the Nazis have selected a group of Jews for deportation [including four members of Szpilman's family] and a young woman innocently asks the SS officer in charge where they're being taken. His response is a shot to her head - just like that, and her only crime was to speak up. There are many poignant scenes that are heartrending in their portrayal of human suffering - a grieving young mother who is beside herself as she smothered her own child to death to prevent the baby's cries from being heard, bodies of Nazi victims including young children, and also one particularly disturbing scene where an old man in a wheelchair is picked up by the Nazis [for being unable to stand up when the Nazis stomp into his family dinner] and thrown off the balcony. Though the scenes may appear random, the viewer is well aware that there was nothing random about the Nazis' intent - that of decimating the Jews.

Adrien Brody as the pianist Szpilman effectively portrays a man who is tortured by his circumstances, yet bears all his suffering in silence - witnessing the atrocities around him, being separated from his family and learning of their tragic fates later, and being forced to endure the agony of incessant hunger whilst trying to stay alive. His indomitable spirit shines through in many scenes, especially the scene where he is asked by a German officer to play the piano - even in the midst of great hunger, and with fingers gnarled by sickness and starvation, Szpilman is able to play an achingly haunting piece that would have done a concert pianist proud.

"The Pianist" is definitely a memorable Holocaust film - it even shows that not all Germans were monsters as exemplified by the humane German officer who helped Spzilman when he was in hiding. Though the movie evokes the horrors of the time it also captures the resilience of the human spirit under the most harrowing circumstances.
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on April 30, 2003
I saw The Pianist on my birthday 3 months ago.
I had heard some good reviews and was very interested to see what Polanski had been up to lately.
I was astonished, moved, and speechless.
The movie embodies everything that I love about film....a true story being told with love and great care for the past, and in a way that makes you feel the pain that the characters experience.
Adrien Brody will now get the credit he deserves after his 10+ years in the industry. His performance was genuine and brilliant. He has been my favorite actor for a few years and out did all of his previous work with his role as Wladyslaw Szpilman. I cannot think of a more deserving performance of the Best Actor Oscar in recent years.
The Pianist is an unforgettable film about a simple man who hangs on when all hope and life is lost from the world he knows.
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I full appreciate and endorse the idea that there will be one film in your experience that brings home the horrors of the Holocaust for you, and after that point nothing else has quite the same effect. This is true for me and actually came when I was editing out commercials of the television mini-series "Holocaust," which had none of the graphic depictions found in theatrical films such as "Schnidler's List" and "The Pianist," or even later television efforts such as "War and Remembrance." But just because the full horror truly overwhelms you that first time and never with quite the same force again, does not mean other similar tales are not worth the telling. I know I will never see a film that conveys the horror of war more than the opening sequences of "Saving Private Ryan," but that does not stop me from seeing more movies about World War II.
"The Pianist" is an atypical story of a European Jew during this period because the title character, Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody is his Oscar winning performance), survives the Holocaust. There is a memorable shot of Szpilman walking down the street of the Warsaw ghetto after the deportation of the Jews and the streets are littered with their possessions. Hundreds of characters in the film, thousands from the ghetto, millions throughout Europe were exterminated by the Nazis. Szpilman is the exception, not the rule.
The horror of his survival is that is so random and very little of what Szpilman does contributes to his being alive at the end of the film. The explanation, such director Roman Polanski provides in this film, is that Szpilman has value as a classical pianist, a cultural icon of sorts to the people of Warsaw, whether they are Jewish or not. That is the key factor in the decisions, often impromptu ones, that save Szpilman's life. But there is also the factor of luck, whether it is both German and Russian soldiers being poor shots, or simply where you stand in line. You can see where the story would resonate with Polanski, who was pushed through the fence of the concentration camp by his father, who also survived.
In many ways "The Pianist" is a fitting counterpart to "Schindler's List" as a different sort of survivor's tale. In Steven Spielberg's film the story is heroic because of the effort to fight the system and the odds (Oskar Schindler ended a lot high on the list of AFI's Heroes this week than Moses). But there is little of the hero in Szpilman. Instead he is a witness, who often has to do nothing more than look out the window to see both the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the turning tide of the war. He is a mute witness as well, as much by temperament as by his vocation, although there is only one piano piece in the entire film where we sense that he is articulating his feelings rather than playing what he has been told to play. But Brody plays many scenes without ever uttering a word and despite the title very few scenes have music if his character is not the one playing it.
�The Pianist� falls between triumph and tragedy, which may well prove unsettling to many viewers who want the security of provided by such categorization. I have seen comparisons to the second half of this film with �Castaway,� and while I understand the comparison it falls through simply because Szpilman is a less than active agent in his own survival too many times. But that is just another small reminder that �The Pianist� is history and not fiction and that the greatest horror is not the we are the victims of a grand design but rather of the arbitrariness of the fickle finger of fate.
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on June 13, 2003
There have been many films over the years dealing with the Holocaust and the atrocities in Europe during the Second World War. The best known of course is, Schindler's List. While Schindler's List will be the film by which all other films about this dark period of history will be judged, it has met its match in The Pianist. While Schindler gave us the viewers the story of one very flawed man who saved many lives in the guise of Jewish Labor, The Pianist is far different. The story of one man who managed to survive Warsaw during the Occupation and was ultimately the reciepant of some kindness from the most unlikely person,a German solider. The difference between the two films is that while Schindler's took a rather aneseptic and 'Hollywood' view of the flawed man Oskar Schindler, The Pianist drew on the real life experiences of its director to make the film much more personal. It not only becomes personal to the director himself, but to the viewer. Polanski himself was a boy during the Occupation, injected small things that he remembered during the Occuapation into the film. Little things like someone telling Spzilman not to run as he is pulled from the lines of people, including his family, being forced into cattle cars on their way to a certain death.It is things like this that bring the viewer closer to the characters and even to the director. Adrien Brody gave the performance of his life in this film. It deserved every Oscar it got and it is a true masterpiece to be treasured.
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Roman Polanski's The Pianist is the real life story of Wladyslaw Szpilman who was a Polish Jew who survived the Nazi occupation of Poland. Adrien Brody plays Szpilman and he gives a star-making performance. Szpilman is a concert pianist who plays on Polish radio and as the film begins he is playing on the radio when the area of Warsaw the station is in is bombed. The Szpilman family is defiant at first towards the news of the German occupation, but then like all Jewish families, they are forced to follow the strict rules the Nazis set forth regarding Jews. They are made to move from their spacious and homey apartment into a [cramped], run down space in the designated Jewish ghetto. The family struggles for money, but Wladyslaw is still able to play piano in a Jewish restaurant for meager earnings. Eventually the family is in line to be sent to a concentration camp, but through sheer fate, Wladyslaw is pulled from the line boarding the train and is spared certain death. He then spends time working a slave laborer building the wall separating the Jewish section of Warsaw from the rest of the city. Again, he escapes through the gracious help of others and through the underground resistance is kept hid in an apartment away from detection. Although free from the ghetto, he is a prisoner in the apartment and at the mercy of others. He is facing starvation when he is forced to flee the apartment when it is bombed. He hides out in a hospital for a while and eventually ends up in the bombed out ruins of Warsaw. It is while he is hiding in the ruins that he again faces almost certain death when he is discovered by a German officer, Captain Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann). Hosenfeld speaks with him and asks what Szpilman's profession was and Szpilman replies he is a pianist. There happens to be a piano in the house and Hosenfeld makes Szpilman play. Szpilman plays a gorgeous piece and Hosenfeld is moved to spare Szpilman's life. He brings him food and when the Germans are retreating from the Russians, Hosenfeld gives Szpilman his coat to keep warm. It is the exchange between Hosenfeld and Szpilman that is the heart of the film and shows that despite the horror of war and the atrocities of the Nazis, that the true spirit of humanity can still shine through. Ironically, Szpilman survived the war and went on to continue his career as a pianist and Hosenfeld ended up a prisoner in a Russian war camp where he died several years after the war ended. Mr. Brody is incredible in his part. His facial expressions convey the sense of fear and hopelessness that Szpilman must have felt through his tragic journey. Never once does go over the top, it a truly genuine performance. Mr. Polanski also does a brilliant job of directing. He details the senseless brutality and omnipresence of the German occupation of Poland, but never sinks into gratuitous violence. The film was nominated for seven academy awards including Best Picture. Both Mr. Brody and Mr. Polanski scored unexpected, but richly deserved Oscars for Best Actor and Best Director respectively and Ronald Harwood won the film's third Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
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on September 24, 2003
Roman Polanski's "The Pianist" is a hard film for me to review, because it was a hard film to watch. I am an admirer of Polanski, and have watched everthing he's made---right down to "The Fearless Vampire Killers"---scores of times. I approached "The Pianist" with a combination of intrigue and ambivalence: on the one hand, doubtless I would get a hearty serving of Holocaust horror and grue, which I wasn't looking forward to. On the other hand, Polanski is a master filmmaker at the height of his craft, and if he had a story to tell about the Nazi occupation of Poland, I wanted to hear it.
I wasn't expecting this.
"The Pianist" is not a normal film; it is certainly not a normal "Holocaust film", if there is even such a thing. And contrary to the way the film was marketed, it is not a story of hope, of redemption amidst the ruins, of a ray of light in humanity's darkness. Not at all.
This is a story of stupid, brute, hard-scrabble survival. The fact that it is set in 1939 Warsaw is almost incidental, in that the character of Wladyslaw Szpilman (played masterfully by Adrien Brody) could as easily have been stranded on a desert island, crashed in the snowy heights of the Andes, or buried in the bowels of some Stygian cave.
So viewer beware: this is not a hopeful tale, this is a brutal, harrowing, horrifying first-person journey told entirely from the viewpoint of its eponymous protagonist. And from the moment we encounter the pianist playing Chopin for the Polish state radio, until the closing credits, the camera literally never leaves his side.
With that in mind, "The Pianist" is the story of a young Jewish man's struggle to survive as the Nazi darkness falls across Poland. The story is set, and takes place entirely, in Warsaw, begins with the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 (with a shell literally crashing into the Pianist's formerly serene world), and culminates in the "liberation" of the city by the Soviet Red Army in 1945.
The sequences are terse, starkly filmed, often brutal, and mercilessly chronological: Szpilman's family, along with the other Jewish citizens of Warsaw, is quickly humiliated and segregated. One by one come the cold Nazi dictums: no Jews in the parks, no Jews in cafes, no Jews sitting on public benches, all Jews must wear self-made Stars of David on the right arm of their clothing. Ultimately Szpilman's family is moved to the Warsaw ghetto, and things quickly go downhill from there.
When the credits rolled, I was stunned, I was utterly in shock. I recall the initial line of "Moby Dick" from Melville: "And I alone escaped to tell thee." That, for me, is "The Pianist." Szpilman is nothing more than a brute survivor, his humanity is reduced by degrees, as before our horrified eyes he begins to die a death of a thousand cuts. And that, I think, explains why this movie was so maddening for me, and at times so repulsive.
It's hard to identify with Szpilman, this man who trades everything for survival, for the ability to once again play Chopin on his beloved ivories (and boy does he get his chance!). Adrien Brody here is truly masterful: I completely forgot that I was watching an actor on a screen play a role, and became completely absorbed in the character. It is an amazing role, but also a creepily unattractive one: Szpilman is no hero. The heroes in this movie get shot, burned, executed with no quarter and no mourners. Indeed, I became increasingly frustrated with this strangest of protagonists, who is both massively lucky and massively foolish; those familiar with the sequences where Szpilman fumbles with dishware and ambles out to Russian rescuers will understand what I'm talking about here.
Szpilman, meanwhile, survives---but there is a catch to his survival, and in it I think Polanski provides an antidote to an otherwise mesmerizing but nihilistic film that seems to whisper about the silence of God in a blindly uncaring, insane universe. And even more remarkably, despite my initial loathing for the character---my God, man, grab a rifle and get revenge!---I began to care very deeply for him.
Polanski makes a bold decision in attaching the camera solely to Szpilman, and it is a gambit that pays off handsomely. Szpilman becomes our eyes on this brutal, searingly horrific world; his ears are our ears, and we flinch when he fumbles with a cabinet and brings a cupboard full of china crashing down on the floor of his hiding place. Polanski has worked seamlessly with Director of Photography Pawel Edelman to create a totally authentic nightmare world which becomes unbearably horrible---and then, without flinching, spirals down into even more unimaginable horror.
The acting here is all first-rate. Particularly surprising is the excellent work by Thomas Kretschmann (an elegant German actor with fine poise who appeared, amazingly, as the Vampire overlord Damaskinos in Blade II), who portrays a German officer who---no, I'll let you see for yourself. In a sense, Kretschmann's character serves as the mirror image of the pianist, and puts a fine coda to the film. And while the film features the most haunting piano works of Beethoven and Chopin, composer Wojciech Kilar (who produced the astounding soundtrack to Polanski's "The Ninth Gate") returns with a haunting, moving score that serves the movie well.
I am not finished with "The Pianist." It was not an easy film to watch; indeed, it was often repulsive and maddening, and yet I imagine I'll be watching it again. If you find yourself reacting in the same way to the film, if you're tempted to turn it off---resist!---stay with it: you'll be richly rewarded. It is a bold film, a masterful movie, and a film which I contend again is not strictly a Holocaust piece: it is about survival, and centers on the question of how much of himself a man is willing to surrender in order to survive---and after the surrender, what remains of the man? What makes him human?
One question continues to trouble me, though: is Szpilman changed after his ordeal? Is he a different man---or is he the same? Did he change, after all?
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VINE VOICEon January 24, 2004
THE PIANIST is one of the best films that I've seen in a long time. The music, acting, cinematography and the superb direction of Roman Pulanski have all combined to make an extraordinary film. It's the true story of a Jewish pianist and takes place in Poland during World War II. Adrien Brody's performance in the part of Wladyslaw Szpilman was sensitive and believable.
The story begins with Szpilman playing the piano on live radio as the Germans are bombing Warsaw. Wladyslaw is so into his music that he continues to play even after the station's radio manager signals for him to stop. Thus begins the story of Hilter's war on Poland and the Jews living there. The portrayal of the home life of the Szpilman family was intriguing. It gave me a good idea of what it was like for them to live day to day under the increasing threat of Nazi violence towards the Jewish community. All of the Jewish families are made to wear arm bands and sent to live in one area that became known as the Warsaw Ghetto. Some Jews have permits to work outside the Ghetto. Wladyslaw is a radio star and has some influence. He obtains work permits for his family, hoping that would save them all, but it's too late. Before his family can even use the permits, the Nazis begin to evacuate them from the Ghetto and load them into cattle cars to be sent to concentration camps. Wladyslaw is standing with his family and just before they are loaded up, he's pulled off by a friend who's a Jewish policeman. He escapes from the Nazis, and spends the war years hiding in various buildings. He survived with the help of Christian friends and by his sheer tenacity.
Since Wladyslaw Szpilman wrote his memoirs shortly after the war, his account is considered to be very accurate of what took place during those terrible years. I've visited Warsaw three times, and felt that THE PIANIST gave me the real feeling of that city. I've seen many photographs of the ruins of Warsaw, and this film gave a clear idea of what was left after the bombing. The Old Town has been rebuilt and its a monument to the dedication and hard work of the people of Poland
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Jewish pianist Wladyshaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) is considered to be the most gifted pianist in pre-World War II Poland. Music lovers eagerly await his shows on Polish radio, and fans travel to Warsaw to meet him. But when Nazi Germany invades Poland, Polish Jews begin to be persecuted. At first they are forbidden from public places, required to wear arm bands identifying them as Jews, and are restricted in the amount of money they can keep. Then all of the Jews in Poland were relocated to a small part of Warsaw that became a Jewish ghetto and confined there. Wladyshaw Szpilman and his family were among them. Szpilman managed to survive the difficult and terrifying life in the Warsaw ghetto for several years, until only 60,000 of the original half million Jewish occupants remained. He escaped to the outside before the ghetto was burned and was hidden by some friends in the Polish underground. Even with the aid of others, Szpilman became deathly ill and nearly starved to death on several occasions before the Russian army finally drove the Germans from Poland and he was free to come out of hiding.
"The Pianist" is the story of Wladyshaw Szpilman's struggle to survive the desperate circumstances that Polish Jews faced under Nazi occupation, based on Szpilman's autobiography. "The Pianist" was directed by another Polish Jew who survived the Nazi occupation, Roman Polanski (whose parents paid for a rural Christian family to keep their son while they were taken to a concentration camp). Roman Polanski has said that he would never make his own story into a movie, and he waited a very long time to direct someone else's. "The Pianist" is a long movie, and it contains a lot of material that would not be essential to tell Szpilman's story. The extra material helps pace the film and is included in such a way as to give the film a lyrical quality, create mood, and enhance our understanding of the environment in which Szpilman and his countrymen were living. Presumably for personal reasons, Roman Polanski did not cut this one to the bare bones. That's fine because the added length gives us a chance to see more characters, some very fine cinematography, and more of Adrien Brody's excellent performance. "The Pianist" is engrossing enough that its length doesn't produce boredom. There are a lot of minor characters, and all of the film's performances are impressive. I highly recommend "The Pianist" for its incredible story of perseverance, great performances, beautiful cinematography, and inspiring tribute to the power of music.
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on March 14, 2004
The whole time my wife amd I watched this film, we couldn't leave it for a minute. Aside from the incredible acting, the film showed disturbingly clear how a whole sect of the human race could be isolated and left open for violation. It was so slow and subtle, that people didn't realize what was happening before it was too big to stop. I have also watched Schindler's List which was more disturbing as a whole, but much more stark in it's telling. This movie is on a more intimate level and I consider it to be one of the best I've ever seen. Warning- there are some extremely disturbing scenes in this movie-stark, and brutal that will stay with you. And one note to the person from New York that wrote-BORING-, did you know that this was a true story? That the effort by people to hide the pianist was because he was considered a national treasure? Or are you really that narrow-minded that nobody suffers like us? Buy this movie? Most definitely!!!
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on December 28, 2003
"The Pianist" wasn't an easy movie to watch, and it's proven even harder for me to review. To put it mildly, this isn't a feel-good movie, and I certainly wouldn't recommmend it to everyone. Telling the story of a young Jewish piano prodigy who manages to survive the Nazi occupation of Poland, this film is almost unfailingly bleak and depressing, practically making "Schindler's List" seem cheery by comparison. I've read about the Nazis' incredibly harsh rule in the conquered territories of eastern Europe, but seeing it on screen is still daunting, and Roman Polanski's camera is there to capture the physical and mental devastation that World War II brought to Poland. Not a movie you'd go to on a first date, to be sure.
Throughout the harrowing first half of the movie, we see the humanity of the ghettoized Jews reduced by degrees until their lives have become as meaningless and disposable as those of cattle. There are some brutal scenes of schockingly callous violence perpetrated by German soldiers, but the violence itself isn't even the worst part. The systematic denial of humanity that enabled such senseless mass killing is much worse, especially since we still see this going on in various conflicts today. And unfortunately, you can't remind yourself that it's just a movie.
As reviewers more eloquent than I have pointed out, protagonist Wladyslaw Spzilman isn't even really a hero. Those Jews smart enough to realize their impending fate and brave enough to fight back are killed just like the rest. His experiences during the German occupation of Poland don't constitute a tale of heroism so much as they illustrate the power of man's primal urge to survive. Once Spzilman goes into hiding with the help of a few good Samaritans, nothing much happens; by then the psychological damage has been done anyway. The prevailing failing of this second hour is one of the overwhelming emptiness that characterizes a country turned into a wasteland.
By hiding out Spzilman has escaped the death camps, but his fight certainly isn't over. Not only does he have to worry about getting through the rest of the war in the most hostile environment imaginable, but there's a question that nagged at me throughout the movie: does Spzilman even manage to retain any of what made life worth living in the first place? How could anyone? That's why the famous late-movie piano-playing scene assumes such importance. When Spzilman plays for a sympathetic German officer, it's not only a moment of catharsis for the audience, it's a reaffirmation of his very humanity.
In the end, "The Pianist" is worth watching, even if, like me, you may decide afterwards that you have no urge to see it again. If nothing else, it serves as an example of what can result from failure to acknowledge our shared humanity. That said, Polanski's portrayal of the Holocaust is surprisingly free of political correctness, making clear that there were good Germans and bad Jews to be found. Unfortunately, moral ambiguity is often in short supply in Hollywood, but this is hardly a Hollywood movie. It doesn't go down anywhere near that easily, which is part of what makes it so compelling.
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