The Pianist (2002) – Roman Polanski

The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of Schindler’s List is this film, based on the autobiography of Wladyslaw Spillman. The film sees Adrien Brody taking on the role, and going home with the Oscar for Best Actor because of it. Too right too, considering his performance and the physical changes the actor went through.

The film follows Spillman during the rise of the Nazis, and the relocation of the Polish Jews to a Warsaw ghetto. From there, he struggles to survive the war, and the horrifying experiences that take place within the ghetto.

Rescued from the trains at the last moment, Spillman is hidden away in apartments struggling to survive, find enough food to eat, and remain quiet so that no one will hear him. Watching from his windows, he sees parts of the war play out locally, and far too many of them strike too close to home.

His family is taken from him, loaded onto the trains headed for the camps. We watch the introduction of regulations governing the behaviour of the Jews, and where they can go, and act. The story gives us an unflinching look at what Spillman did to survive, and the things going on in the world around him.

No matter one’s opinion of Polanski, the film is a brilliant piece of cinema, and he deservedly won the Best Director Oscar. It’s a masterful piece of work, and is as troubling as it is demonstrative of the human’s spirit just to survive.

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From the casual way the Nazis dispensed with Jewish lives, the truck driving down the road is especially jarring, as is every single onscreen execution, nay murder. They happen without precursor or warning, and bodies litter the ghetto everywhere the camera looks in this film.

The casual heartlessness of the Nazis isn’t tempered or even balanced when one, Captain Wilm Hosenfield (Thomas Kretcshmann) gives Spillman food, clothes, and keeps the secret of his location.

None of the Nazi’s actions can be justified, but it speaks immensely of Spillman and the rest for the things that were done just to survive.

The Pianist is a powerful, troubling watch that keeps you on edge, and uncomfortable through out the film. Something that is done intentionally. Forcing you to share some small part of what the Jewish people had to go through during the events leading up to and through out the Second World War.

And while the last scene of the film gives a nice text epilogue, it’s the scene preceding that which truly breaks me. Spillman back at his old job at the radio station, playing piano on the air. He sees someone he knows, a shared experience, and watching the changes and emotions play over his face while he continues to play is a fantastic moment.

Films like this are important because if these stories are forgotten or denied (as some seem intent on doing) then how can we prevent them from happening again?

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