The Pianist
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
the pianist Polanski's Cannes winner is one of the most personal accounts yet of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. The true story begins in 1939 just as the Germans are first arriving, and they don't seem too much of a threat to the young Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Brody) and his family. But it starts getting bad quickly, with little humiliations, bigger indignities, brutality, cruelty and eventually segregation, isolation and murder. Over the years we follow Wladyslaw on a horrific odyssey, as he's separated from his family then spends years hiding, running, watching everything that happens around him, and finding help in the most unexpected places.

The production design is impeccable, recreating wartime Warsaw with eye-popping detail in a how-did-they-do-that kind of way. And Brody's strong yet understated central performance helps us identify with the story; we travel it with him. The surrounding characters are complex and interesting (and very well-played) as they come in and out of Szpilman's life. Harwood's script is a marvel of subtlety--well, as subtle as a film about the horrors of the Holocaust can get. Since we see everything from such a distinct point of view, there's no time for wallowing or moralising, we just get on with the story, we are witnesses to the discrimination, cruelty and slaughter ... and we feel it very strongly. This is gripping assured filmmaking, more like the Polanski of old than his recent work. It rings with the truth of real-life experience, based of course on Szpilman's account and mixed with Polanski's own life. And it does help to know something about Warsaw and its history, as the events will have a stronger relevance and context.

cert 15 themes, language, strong violence 5.Nov.02 lff

dir Roman Polanski
scr Ronald Harwood
with Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Emilia Fox, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Ed Stoppard, Julia Rayner, Jessica Kate Meyer, Daniel Caltagirone, Valentine Pelka, Ruth Platt, Roy Smiles
release US 27.Dec.02; UK 24.Jan.03
Studio Canal
02/Poland 2h28

Left behind. Szpilman (Brody) is the only member of his family who remains in the Warsaw ghetto...

Palme d'Or: CANNES 2002

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R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... the pianist John Woodcock, Manchester 5/5 "The plain way that this film deals with something that can never be discribed as plain, this frightened family's way of trying to deal with something so unbelievable, is testiment to how horrific war-time Warsaw must have been. In one part halfway through the film in a spot line-up, a woman at the end questions the actions of a German soldier. This seals her death - he shoots her without even looking in her face then moves quickly on with his business." (15.Feb.04)
2002 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall