The Pianist

After two decades of aborted projects and mediocre films, Roman Polanski returns to form with an adaptation of Polish composer and pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's autobiography, a powerful evocation of life in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation. Warsaw, 1939: Szpilman (Adrien Brody, in a career-defining performance) is playing Chopin for a live...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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After two decades of aborted projects and mediocre films, Roman Polanski returns to form with an adaptation of Polish composer and pianist

Wladyslaw Szpilman's autobiography, a powerful evocation of life in the

Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation. Warsaw, 1939: Szpilman (Adrien

Brody, in a career-defining performance) is playing Chopin for a live Polish

radio broadcast when a blast from a German bomb shatters the studio windows.

The Luftwaffe is bombing the city, and an unforeseeable nightmare has begun for

Szpilman, his parents (Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman), his two sisters

(Jessica Kate Meyer, Julia Rayner) and his brother (Ed Stoppard). It unfolds

with frightening rapidity: The Nazis' entrance into Warsaw; the mandate

requiring all Jews to wear armbands bearing the Star of David; the relocation

of the city's 360,000 Jews into the newly established Jewish district, where

disease, starvation and Gestapo brutality soon take their toll. Unlike the

rest of his family and most of their ghetto neighbors, Szpilman manages to

escape deportation to a concentration camp, his life saved by a

hated Jewish collaborator (Roy Smiles). But left behind in the nearly empty

streets, Szpilman's tour of hell among Warsaw's living dead is just

beginning. This is the first film Polanski has made in his homeland in over 40

years and the first in which he deals directly with the horror that befell

Poland during the Nazi occupation. Polanski himself escaped the Krakow ghetto

at the age of eight, shortly before it was liquidated; like Szpilman,

Polanski found shelter with sympathetic Catholics while his family wound up

in the camps. An uncompromising vision that seems terrifyingly real

— children are beaten to death in the streets, old men thrown out of

windows and families are hunted and shot like animals — much of the

film's dark power lies in Polanski's willingness to explore what fear and

terror bred in the victims of unrelenting persecution. Many die heroically

behind the brick walls of the ghetto, but not everyone acts nobly: Alongside

Jewish heroes who organize the courageous 1943 uprising stand profiteers who

made fortunes on the black market and Jewish collaborators who helped the

Gestapo round up their neighbors. Awarded the coveted Palme d'Or at the

2002 Cannes Festival, Polanski's film is an unqualified success both

dramatically and artistically — Pawel Edelman's cinematography is

extraordinary, and the emptying of the ghetto and its haunting aftermath must

surely rank among the most powerful sequences in recent cinema. (In English and German, with English subtitles.)

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  • Released: 2001
  • Rating: R
  • Review: After two decades of aborted projects and mediocre films, Roman Polanski returns to form with an adaptation of Polish composer and pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's autobiography, a powerful evocation of life in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation.… (more)

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