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The Pianist

Starring: Adrien Brody, Daniel Caltagirone, Thomas Kretschmann, Wilm Hosenfeld, Frank Finlay, and Maureen Lipman
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Rated: R


The Pianist is an multi-note concerto masterpiece for the screen. An orchestra of emotions will dance through your head as you follow the real-life account from renowned Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman when his world changed, was interupted, by war and history.

The Szpilman (Adrien Brody) we meet is young, successful, handsome, and talented as the film begins in metropolitan Warsaw. In fact so completely a part of society is Szpilman we meet him as he's giving a radio concert while bombs drop announcing the arrival of the Nazis.

Naturally his family, as is all the population of Warsaw, is stunned. But they also sadly believe this will pass, shortly. The once peacful airwaves are now filled with anti-Semitism and the bustling street with foreign soldiers. The city starts, a little too late, to realize things are getting darker by the minute.

Before you can spin the dradle Hitler orders all the Jewish citizens of Warsaw wrangled into an overcrowded ghetto walled off from the rest of the city. We watch as the Szpilmans and thousands of other Jewish families are herded disbelieving, feeling safer with agreement and powerless to act are sent, with bits of their belongings in hand, into this hell hole like vermin.

Szpilman remains relatively (and surprisingly) calm as life as they knew it comes to a screeching halt. He even continues his music by becoming a saloon pianist behind the walls while his more outraged brother joins the resistance in planning a rebellion.

The pit in our stomach grows larger and heavier as we watch, helpless, as Szpilman loses his entire family to the death camps then is worked close to death in filthy inhumane conditions. When our hearts can take no more, somehow he manages to escape.

Ah, but "freedom" is bittersweet for the poor guy as yet again he finds himself in a prison of sorts dealing once again with the icky side of human nature.

The greatest thing about director Roman Polanski's Pianist is he never softens Szpilman. He doesn't pretty the man's journey back to life up. The real Szpilman, who wrote the memoirs this film is based on, was no hero. He was just a man stuck in a horrid situation trying to get through. Trying to survive. Too often we see the stories that make super heroes out of men and women of war only making what happened even more surreal and uncomprehendable and therefore unreal. By keeping Szpilman as he was in real life, grounded and simple, it was all the more terrifying and relatable and will remind us what should never happen again. And like The Grey Zone (Tim Blake Nelson's recent wünder-film on the Holocaust) The Pianist doesn't judge its subject just lets us see, as he saw, the atrocities.

If it were not for the dollops in Szpilman's story of a few kind and human people, this film could have been a morbidly depressing reality check. Thankfully among the evil masses there were some people who truly tried to fight against the drones.

Adrien Brody holds your attention tightly in his descriptive face and remarkable delivery. What a performance. Considering the man is in every single scene you would think you'd grow bored. But he morphs from this elegant sophisticated upper crust concert pianist to a man diabolically driven to succeed in the simplest of tasks; like find food or warmth. Adrien is so completely perfect in the role you become bewitched early on. Wow.

Polanski puppets a poignant story of one man's will to survive. His sets and designers caught the feeling of Warsaw as it was, adding to the eerieness of our journey. And the most remarkable thing about The Pianist (after Brody's performance that is) is that in the end, through our uncontrollable tears of empathy, we still see that there is hope for mankind. The film certainly makes the guy cutting you off in the left lane way less important. Bring tissues.

Blunt aside: Szpilman seemed almost disattached at times and apparently the man actually remained in Warsaw till his death. Odd, but who are we to judge how something so hideous affects one's soul?

Snack Recommendation: Borsht and bread


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