As part of Tyson Carter’s mission to review all of iMDB’s Top 250 movies I’ve lended a hand by reviewing The Pianist, you should check out his blog Head in a Vice here: http://headinavice.com/imdb-top-250-4/
Roman Polanski’s 2002 film The Pianist tells the story of Polish Jew, Wladyslaw Szpilman, and his journey through the duration of World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland. Played by Adrien Brody, Szpilman was a concert pianist and his true story is an epic struggle for survival through one of the most horrific events in history. The film garnered widespread critical acclaim and earned three Oscar wins including Best Director and Best Actor amongst a number of other wins and nominations across the board.
I must admit I was apprehensive going in to this film, I has taken me a while to get round to watching it, I questioned whether there was any point in another war film surely you’ve got WWII all wrapped in Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. And then you’ve got Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket providing a more auteuristic interpretation of war albeit Vietnam rather than WWII. The Pianist comes after all of this and the question is what could it do differently? During the films lengthy but not justified 2 hours and 25 minutes it did take me a while to realise the film’s unique charm and new perspective on life in the wartime.
Rather than focus on battle and politics Polanski focuses solely on the personal journey of Szpilman and this is what, initially, took me some time to get to grips with. The opening scenes consist of him and his family in their home in the Jewish ‘ghetto’ and during these scenes it seems that everyone is arguing yet our protagonist seems to sit back and watch on. This made it hard to identify with him at first, as he comes meek and introverted although in retrospect there was much more at play here than first met the eye. What Polanski was doing was building a unique tone to the film, unlike any I’ve seen in a war film before. He was putting in the audience in the scene with him, we were there stood beside him, as outsiders looking in, realising what life must of been like in this time. His quietness is reflecting a sense of what one of us would be like thrown into this situation just watching as things unfold.
It is clear that techniques have been used here in every aspect to enhance this feeling of going on the journey with Szpilman. One of my favourite things about the film is the way the bombings and shootings are always shot from the point of view of looking out from a window down into the street below, putting you in the shows of this character. It gives the feeling of utter helplessness and shock at the injustice that was taking place. You feel as if you’re going on this journey too.
The horrific nature of the Nazi’s is portrayed in a fittingly sickening manner as well. Lining up random Jews and shooting them at will, whipping Szpilman for not being able to carry a huge amount of bricks and while some of the Polish are very kind to them others of them are just as anti-semitic as the Nazi’s themselves. There is no other word for the what life was like for them other than horrific. One of the most affecting scenes has a starving Jewish forcing a woman to drop a container of food onto the floor and then falling to the ground and licking it up off the cobblestones.
Brody’s performance is definitely something to behold as well, his beleaguered pianist is forced to become reclusive and malnourished. We feel every bit of his pain even with dialogue being sparse all the way through. It is in fact made even more personal by the way in which we spent a lot moments with him on his own, in silence which goes some of the way to giving an understanding of the pain-staking boredom and lonlieness he must have experienced. It’s certainly a feat to be able to give such empathy to a character and combine it with a suspension of disbelief and Brody was definitely worthy of his Academy award. It’s a shame I haven’t seen him do anything else of this calibre.
While The Pianist sits fairly low down on the iMDB 250 list, being placed at number 53, fourteen places below Saving Private Ryan and forty-eight behind Schindler’s List, it shows a side of the war that, previously I hadn’t seen before. Polanski directs it so masterfully it really is a great shame that this movie is overlooked due to having those two behemoths to contend with, as it tells a story of personal survival and does it in a way that gives you a much more realistic sense of life as a Jew in the war. Dare I say, this film is most masterful WWII portrayal of them all?