Film essay on the pianist


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Polanski himself is a Holocaust survivor, saved at one point when his father pushed him through the barbed wire of a camp. He wandered Krakow and Warsaw, a frightened child, cared for by the kindness of strangers. His own survival and that of his father are in a sense as random as Szpilman's, which is perhaps why he was attracted to this story. Steven Spielberg tried to enlist him to direct " Schindler's List ," but he refused, perhaps because Schindler's story involved a man who deliberately set out to frustrate the Holocaust, while from personal experience Polanski knew that fate and chance played an inexplicable role in most survivals.

The Pianist Essay - Words | Bartleby

The film was shot in Poland where he had not worked since his first feature film, "Knife in the Water," in , and also in Prague and in a German studio. On giant sets he recreates a street overlooked by the apartment where Szpilman is hidden by sympathizers; from his high window the pianist can see the walls of the ghetto, and make inferences about the war, based on the comings and goings at the hospital across the street. Szpilman is safe enough here for a time, but hungry, lonely, sick and afraid, and then a bomb falls and he discovers with terror that the running water no longer works.

By now it is near the end of the war and the city lies in ruins; he finds some rooms standing in the rubble, ironically containing a piano that he dare not play. The closing scenes of the movie involve Szpilman's confrontation with a German captain named Wilm Hosenfeld Thomas Kretschmann , who finds his hiding place by accident. I will not describe what happens, but will observe that Polanski's direction of this scene, his use of pause and nuance, is masterful.

Some reviews of "The Pianist" have found it too detached, lacking urgency. Perhaps that impassive quality reflects what Polanski wants to say.

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Almost all of the Jews involved in the Holocaust were killed, so all of the survivor stories misrepresent the actual event by supplying an atypical ending. Often their buried message is that by courage and daring, these heroes saved themselves. Well, yes, some did, but most did not and--here is the crucial point--most could not. In this respect Tim Blake Nelson's " The Grey Zone " is tougher and more honest, by showing Jews trapped within a Nazi system that removed the possibility of moral choice.

By showing Szpilman as a survivor but not a fighter or a hero--as a man who does all he can to save himself, but would have died without enormous good luck and the kindness of a few non-Jews--Polanski is reflecting, I believe, his own deepest feelings: that he survived, but need not have, and that his mother died and left a wound that had never healed. After the war, we learn, Szpilman remained in Warsaw and worked all of his life as a pianist. His autobiography was published soon after the war, but was suppressed by Communist authorities because it did not hew to the party line some Jews were flawed and a German was kind.

Republished in the s, it caught Polanski's attention and resulted in this film, which refuses to turn Szpilman's survival into a triumph and records it primarily as the story of a witness who was there, saw, and remembers. This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland.

One of the main genres that allow later generations access to this time thus presents an inevitably unrepresentative picture of it. We naturally identify with the protagonists of these books, and the characters based on them in movies and plays, and so imagine that we would have been among the lucky ones, even if the real odds suggest otherwise.

Adrien Brody interview on The Pianist on Charlie Rose (2003)

We also comfort ourselves in the vain belief that, had we been there, we would have bravely defied the Nazis, risking our own well-being to help their victims. When it is not treated with the uneasy sentimentality reserved for miracles, survival -- whether through dumb luck, resilience, the kindness of strangers or some combination of these -- is often viewed with a deep and bitter sense of the absurd. Polanski, who was a Jewish child in Krakow when the Germans arrived in September , presents Szpilman's story with bleak, acid humor and with a ruthless objectivity that encompasses both cynicism and compassion.

When death is at once so systematically and so capriciously dispensed, survival becomes a kind of joke. By the end of the film, Szpilman, brilliantly played by Adrien Brody, comes to resemble one of Samuel Beckett's gaunt existential clowns, shambling through a barren, bombed-out landscape clutching a jar of pickles.

He is like the walking punchline to a cosmic jest of unfathomable cruelty.


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Perhaps because of his own experiences, Mr. Polanski approaches this material with a calm, fierce authority. This is certainly the best work Mr. Polanski has done in many years which, unfortunately, is not saying a lot , and it is also one of the very few nondocumentary movies about Jewish life and death under the Nazis that can be called definitive which is saying a lot.

A Review of The Pianist Essay

And -- again paradoxically -- this is achieved by realizing the modest, deliberate intention to tell a single person's story, to recreate a specific and finite set of events. Ronald Harwood's script does take some necessary liberties with Szpilman's account, but these seem justified by the demands of movie storytelling. The ambition to produce a comprehensive vision -- a single spectacle adequate to the Holocaust -- ultimately defeated Steven Spielberg's admirable and serious ''Schindler's List. Polanski, in staging a narrow, partial slice of history, has made a film that is both drier and more resonant than Mr.

One of Mr. Polanski's trademarks is what might be called to continue multiplying paradoxes a humane sadism. He has always been fascinated by what happens to weak, ordinary people -- Mia Farrow in ''Rosemary's Baby,'' for instance, or Jack Nicholson in ''Chinatown'' -- when they are intruded upon by evil forces more powerful than they, and he punishes his actors, peeling back their vanity to make them show the face of humanity under duress. Brody's most appealing features -- from ''King of the Hill'' 10 years ago through such varied and underseen pictures as ''Restaurant,'' ''Summer of Sam'' and ''Bread and Roses'' more recently -- is his quick-witted, almost smart-alecky cockiness.

His Szpilman, in the first section of ''The Pianist,'' has the gait of a self-satisfied dandy and the smug smile of a man who takes charm and good fortune as his birthright. As he plays piano in a broadcast studio, an explosion rattles the building. He ducks, wipes some plaster off his sleeve, and keeps playing. Later Szpilman refuses to allow the widespread panic at the German invasion to interfere with more pressing matters, like the seduction of a star-struck young woman named Dorota Emilia Fox.


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History, the occupying Germans and Mr. Polanski then conspire to wipe the smirk off his face.


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The Nazi takeover is followed by a swift, brutal chronicle of violation and humiliation as the Szpilman family are stripped of their possessions, their dignity the elderly father, played by Frank Finlay, is beaten by a German soldier for daring to use the sidewalk and their home.

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