The Pianist (2002)
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Review Date: December 23, 2002
Director: Roman Polanski
Writer: Ronald Harwood
Producers: Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde
Adrien Brody as Wladyslaw Szpilman
Daniel Caltagirone as Majorek
Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld
The year is 1939, the country is Poland, the invaders are the Nazis and the story is true. Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman and his family, along with all other Warsaw Jews, are persecuted by the Germans and placed inside a bricked-off ghetto until further notice. Then one day, thousands upon thousands of them are suddenly placed inside cargo trains and shipped off to destinations unknown. Szpilman escapes and attempts to survive on the dirty, dangerous, war-infested streets instead. Tragedy ensues.
An extremely authentic war movie featuring an impressive showing by lead Adrien Brody, genuine insight into the plight of the Jews during the Nazi invasion of Poland, realistic brutality of the horrors conducted at that time, but not enough of an emotional string to pull me in completely. Having said that, I did develop a very strong sense of fear, paranoia and frustration after following Brody's character around for two and a half hours though. In fact, the ghettos created in this film are about as genuine as they come with the deep sense of desperation, cruelty and confusion coming through in all respects. The cinematography and set design were also tremendous and not enough can be said about the film's undeniable ability to delve us right into the trenches. It's to note that director Roman Polanski himself spent some time in these very same ghettos during the actual German invasion, so I'm sure that his memory of the atrocities brought even more realism to it all. The actors were also very good across the board, but it's the emphasis on Brody and his character's plight that is essentially at the core of this film. I've always been a fan of Brody's work and he's as great as always here, if not better. He starts the movie off as a young, dashing, clean-cut dude with a major talent at the piano, and slowly morphs into a sick, unsheltered, gangly individual who shuffles around for food scraps. The transformation is amazing and props go out to Brody for not only offering a great acting performance, but for completely inhabiting this very distorted individual. By the end of the picture, he is barely recognizable.

Unfortunately, the lack of interaction with others is also what distanced this film from its emotional realm. I was hoping to feel much stronger for Brody's character and those around him, but in the end, even though I knew that I had seen a good film, I also recognized that it hadn't really touched me deeply. It was almost like a pragmatic presentation of what went on, but without the emotional ties. This could also have been due to the film's stronger emphasis on Brody's isolation, with the second half of the picture featuring very little dialogue and feeling a lot like CAST AWAY, with Brody scuttling from one spot to another. Having said that, the film still contains plenty of additional reasons to watch, including an original take on sound as a bomb blows up right next to Brody, a number of extremely graphic but memorable killings and an engaging back-and-forth between Brody and a German Nazi soldier, which provides for a unusual perspective. The movie also isn't afraid to show some of its captives in their negative light, with certain Jews needing to work "with" the Germans in order to save themselves, as well as a sequence of rebellion. In the end, we all know that any war or holocaust movie is going to be ugly, but this one does offer an amazing true story of one of the handful of Jewish Poles who survived from the half a million who were in that area around that time (the film is based on Szpilman's own 1946 novel), more on the beginning of the invasion and its measured growth throughout the country, as well as plenty of realism and even some humanity. I don't think this movie offers enough of an emotional angle to reel one in entirely, but it does present a sick sense of the voyeur, as we witness much of the visceral violence and inhumanity that plagued that dark period of our history. "I wish I knew you better."
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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