Pianist, The

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 07/24/04 00:57:31

"A shattering remembrance from one who was there."
5 stars (Awesome)

The Pianist is an astonishing and harrowing depiction of the breakdown, and restoration, of the human spirit by degrees, made all the more personal in the retelling by Roman Polanski's having lived in Nazi-occupied Poland as a child at the time of the events chronicled.

The Pianist seems more about images than story, largely silent, and even devoid of music, until the end, when we're awash in glorious, redemptive concert.

The film opens in Warsaw in 1939, with celebrated composer and pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) performing the last live radio musical broadcast, Chopin's Nocturne in D, even as German bombs were exploding around him. Finally forced to flee when the radio station is hit, Szpilman rushes home to his family, who have always lived in privilege due to Wladyslaw's status as a musician.

Szpilman and his family are able to escape deportation for a time by working as demeaned laborers for the Nazis, he has a piano player in a Jewish restaurant. When the rest of his family is rounded up in cattle cars and shipped to a concentration camp, he is again ironically saved by his music when he is taken aside by a policeman who admires his work and allowed to remain in the Warsaw ghetto. By now terribly fragile, Wladyslaw must fight for survival in the ghetto through hiding in the underground, censoring his behaviour, and relying on the kindness of old friends and strangers.

Some of the most horrifying and wrenching scenes are those shown in silence: A man in a wheelchair being pitched over a balcony; people in the ghetto being forced to dance for the amusement of the Nazi officers; a starving man trying to wrest a pot of beans from a woman's hands, then groveling on the ground for the spilled food. Moving, too, is the scene where Szpilman is helped into hiding in a flat with a piano. Warned of the need to be quiet, he "plays" with his fingers inches from the keyboard, hearing the music only in his head.

Most effective are the pivotal scenes between Szpilman (once again literally saved by his music, when he is forced to play what he is certain is his last piece) and the German officer (Thomas Kretschmann) who brings him food and a coat (which ironically is nearly the death of him).

The Pianist is a beautifully written (Ronald Harwood), directed (Polanski), photographed (Pawel Edelman), and acted (Brody and all supporting players) tale of devastation and survival, a praiseworthy effort all around.

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