Winner of the prestigious Golden Palm award at the 2002 Cannes film festival, The Pianist is the film that Roman Polanski was born to direct. A childhood survivor of Nazi-occupied Poland, Polanski was uniquely suited to tell the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew and concert pianist (played by Adrien Brody) who witnessed the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, miraculously eluded the Nazi death camps, and survived throughout World War II by hiding among the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. Unlike any previous dramatization of the Nazi holocaust, The Pianist…
Winner of the prestigious Golden Palm award at the 2002 Cannes film festival, The Pianist is the film that Roman Polanski was born to direct. A childhood survivor of Nazi-occupied Poland, Polanski was uniquely suited to tell the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew and concert pianist (played by Adrien Brody) who witnessed the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, miraculously eluded the Nazi death camps, and survived throughout World War II by hiding among the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. Unlike any previous dramatization of the Nazi holocaust, The Pianist steadfastly maintains its protagonist’s singular point of view, allowing Polanski to create an intimate odyssey on an epic wartime scale, drawing a direct parallel between Szpilman’s tenacious, primitive existence and the wholesale destruction of the city he refuses to abandon. Uncompromising in its physical and emotional authenticity, The Pianist strikes an ultimate note of hope and soulful purity. As with Schindler’s List, it’s one of the greatest films ever made about humanity’s darkest chapter. —Jeff Shannon
Barnes and Noble
After a string of mediocre movies that hardly hinted at Roman Polanski’s early glory, The Pianist represents a dazzling comeback—the director’s best work since Chinatown. Call it the anti-Spielberg Holocaust movie. Like Schindler’s List, The Pianist is based on a true story—in this case, the autobiography of classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish Jew who escaped the Nazis and spent World War II hiding out in Warsaw. But where Spielberg’s film is operatic and ultimately sentimental, Polanski’s is austere, tightly focused, almost clinical in the way it details Szpilman’s quest for survival. An upper-class dandy whose interests in life are limited to music and women, Szpilman is miraculously spared when his entire family, along with the rest of the Warsaw Ghetto, is carted off to the death camps. Brody, in an Oscar-winning performance, is magnificent as a man who is single-minded in his obsession with his music and tenacious in his will to live but hardly heroic: Szpilman’s initial salvation is a stroke of sheer luck. Later, in a stunning and lyrical scene that the entire film builds toward, we see that ultimately his talent as a pianist is the only thing that saves him. If many of the early images from The Pianist are familiar from other Holocaust films, once Szpilman is alone, holed up in a series of empty apartments, peering helplessly through the windows at the war’s devastation, Polanski brings a fresh perspective. The shots of an emaciated, barely alive Szpilman, wandering like a ghost through the rubble of the bombed-out ghetto, are unforgettable. A Polish Holocaust survivor himself, the director films Szpilman’s story with a clarity and authority that clearly derive from his own experience. Both Polanski—who fled the U.S. decades ago after statutory rape charges—and newcomer Brody scored upsets at the 2003 Academy Awards, winning the Best Director and Best Actor awards, respectively. Their surprise triumphs are testaments to the power of this remarkable film. Kryssa Schemmerling
Roman Polanski’s telling of famed Polish composer-pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman’s survival in the Nazi-controlled Warsaw ghetto can’t help but be infused with the director’s deepest passions: he himself escaped the Kraków ghetto as a boy of 7. The musician’s status as a musical hero to the oppressed Polish Jews of World War II was surpassed only by that of Chopin, the composer who was at the core of Szpilman’s repertoire. Thus this score revolves tightly around Chopin’s music, with modern Polish pianist Janusz Olejniczak paying passionate homage to both his musical…
Named one of the Best Books of 1999 by the Los Angeles Times, The Pianist is now a major motion picture directed by Roman Polanski and starring Adrien Brody (Son of Sam). The Pianist won the Cannes Film Festival’s most prestigious prize—the Palme d’Or.
On September 23, 1939, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outside—so loudly that he couldn’t hear his piano. It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio went off the air.
Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble. Written immediately after the war and suppressed for decades, The Pianist is a stunning testament to human endurance and the redemptive power of fellow feeling.