The Pianist (2002)
The Pianist (2002) is one of those films that takes a certain type of director to understand the material, much like Steven Spielberg who was cautious in approaching Schindler’s’ List (1993). Here Roman Polanksi who may even have a greater understanding of the material, having grown up in Poland just before the Nazi occupation. Even being inspired by events in his own life whilst adapting the book the film’s based upon (The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945)
Once again the film focuses in Warsaw, which is purely coincidence, and allowing for bigger scope and allowing the audience to engage easier. Based on the biography of Wladyslaw Szpilman who thankfully survived the occupation. I knew the basic plot but not the depth if his experiences, risking his life to stay behind and leave his family who ultimately become casualties of the holocaust, yet leave a strong mark on the film. An average Jewish family who are struggling to survive under the oppressive Nazi regime that saw them moved about, stripping them of their liberties, dignity and sadly their lives. For the first half of the film, we’re surrounded by family before they are taken away.
With the family seemingly sent away to a work-camp we stay with Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) the once famed pianist now fighting for survival, having lost his way of life, wanting to escape the confines of the ghetto where the few remaining Jews are forced to work under fear of death. Once he finally escapes he has to rely on the kindness of strangers from an underground movement that sees him move from apartment to apartment, trapped for months at a time. He becomes an on looker to the awful events that destroy the town around him. For a while we become viewers ourselves of this occupation, taking a nod to Rear Window (1954) that confines your view to one room as the action unfolds on the streets.
Thankfully under a barrage of attack he escapes to ruined streets where he finds shelter and friendship in a sympathizing Nazi Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann) who from seeing his talent for the ivories allows him to hide in safety, knowing that the war is in its twilight, killing another Jew would doing nothing to help the effort. It seems as though however bound he was to duty, the ideals of the Nazi’s were wanning by the end of the war, it was fear that kept them going.
The film is rich in detail, not wanting to drop a line of the original text, it feels so vital to telling this tale with truth and honesty that is hard not to shed a tear or two whilst watching this film. A creative man who wants to play, yet in such a dangerous climate is unable to express himself. It’s this expression that ultimately saves his life. A talent that in a time is expendable, only a few would be kept to entertain the enemy. Wladyslaw Szpilman was a very lucky individuals whose trust in others paid off, without resorting to Hollywood schmaltz that films resort to, instead it was the kindness of humanity and strangers that saw this man to survive.