ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  roman polanski

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  drama

LENGTH  -  148 minutes

RELEASED  -  27 december 2002

DISTRIBUTOR  -  focus features

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the pianist

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $35,000,000
the pianist - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from the pianist at

buy the dvd from the pianist at

a pianist survives the destruction of the warsaw ghetto of world war ii.

won the palme d'or, 2002 cannes film festival.


picture from the pianist

picture from the pianist

picture from the pianist


four out of four possible stars

If one were to put aside the stunning visuals, gripping story, and well placed brevity of The Pianist, a viewer would still be witness to one of the most remarkable stories of Holocaust survival that has ever been brought to the screen. Simply calling Adrien Brody’s performance as real-life pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman incredible and heartbreaking doesn’t do the man’s accomplishment enough justice. Taking a very different route in visualizing a story of endurance during World War II than has every been taken before (stories of this nature more often than not occur in the concentration camps), director Roman Polanski, himself a survivor of that war, adds a superior example of filmmaking that can be placed on par with other war films such as Schindler’s List and The Best Years of Our Lives.

The first step in the right direction taken by Polanski and his screenwriter, Ronald Harwood is the welcome amount of brevity present in what is obviously a horrendous situation. Every few scenes a character says something that is humorous and completely at odds with the serious nature of the story and in later scenes, when conditions become unbearable, the drama present is that much more effective. There is humor present even in the tensest situations and the fact that Polanski and Harwood have recognized this, allows their picture to come off as a fuller and more real account of Holocaust survival.

And on the topic of being “real,” the stark reality of The Pianist is present in every scene of the film. From the severe film stock used by the cinematographer to the dust and decay that eventually comes to settle on every inch of the Warsaw ghetto, where the entire film takes place, the look of the picture invites dramatic comparison to documentary footage of war. Yet it is not so far from the look of a Hollywood feature film that only fringe audiences would appreciate its look. It is beautiful right through its filth and dirt. This film is what can be termed “accessible” to any type of audience. As a teaching tool of World War II atrocities for young viewers to an engrossing experience for older audience members, the filmmakers create a story that virtually anyone can understand and appreciate.

But the shocking nature of many scenes in the film makes viewing the picture truly a heart-pounding experience. Although the film’s visual style is so vivid that a viewer might easily feel the cold of the Warsaw winter and find himself searching for a jacket to pull around him, the characters too hold a tight rope on the audience’s feelings. There are several moments when you just know that a bullet is going to come into contact with a Jew’s brain and it’s almost impossible to take. There is one scene in particular involving a Jewish family whose grandfather is wheelchair-bound, which is nothing less than stunning in the way it causes the entire audience to audibly lurch with shock.

Although Adrien Brody is undoubtedly the star of the picture, the supporting cast is a credit as well, especially a few non-Jewish Poles and Germans that make appearances. The atrocities of the Nazis are always put into perspective with scenes of bitterly harsh treatment of the Jews throughout the film, but characters like “Captain Wilm Hosenfeld,” played by Thomas Kretschmann, a German Nazi, presents a non-Jewish perspective with depth that is many times lacking in war films. The enemy is often never brought into focus in this genre, but in this film, the Germans are not faceless, mindless people.

It would be silly to portray the Nazis as sympathetic characters, but in exploring that side of the war as well, some strong comments on the Jewish side of the battle are also voiced. Himself a Polish Jew, Polanski has the boldness to suggest that the Jews should have fought back harder against their Nazi oppressors considering the wildly disparate numbers of Nazi invaders to Polish residents in Warsaw. While the Nazis could be numbered in the thousands, the Poles numbered in the hundreds of thousands. This statement is not so sympathetic to the Jewish cause, and Polanski should be recognized for his efforts if only because of the strong opinions on the war he presents.

He even takes a few jabs at American Jews and their roles during the war. It seems Polanski is afraid of offending no one with his story and the film as a whole is more impressive because of his fearless vision. And given that Polanski’s imagination for the on screen and story elements creates such a strong narrative, it is almost ironic that this film should be called “The Pianist” since there are stretches of the film where no music, piano or otherwise, plays on the soundtrack. So strong are the silences in fact, that it makes the struggle in Brody’s head appear so much more stark than if the score had pumped out a sentimental orchestral score in every scene. Polanski doesn’t tell his audience what to feel with the score. He lets the actors do that for him.

And they do it very well. For each of this film’s 148 minutes, the raw emotion from every character and riveting visuals and story add up to a film without fault. Taking its successes from every area of filmmaking (cinematography, script, story, music…), The Pianist is so effective that it stands out as more than an example of a well-made drama. It is affecting and fascinating and like very few films this year, presenting itself as a film with a harsh and worthy lesson that deserves to be seen. Bravo to Roman Polanski and his talented group of filmmakers and actors who have made sure their film is more than good storytelling, but deserving of historical notice as well.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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