This Distracted Globe random header image

Musicians Don’t Make Good Conspirators

August 13th, 2010 · No Comments

Pianist 2002 Adrien Brody

Roman Polanski was born August 18, 1933 in Paris. The sordid details of his flight from the United States in 1978 have often overshadowed discussion of the director’s work, which at the age of 77, includes one of the best films of 2010. Is he a world class filmmaker? In the month of August, I take a look at ten directed by Roman Polanski.

Pianist 2002 poster Pianist dvd

The Pianist (2002)
Directed by Roman Polanski
Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on the book The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945 by Wladyslaw Szpilman
Produced by Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa, Alain Sarde
150 minutes

A tale of an urban castaway that’s as powerful as it is restrained, The Pianist was Roman Polanski’s finest work in two decades. Originally published in 1946 under the title Death of a City, Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir of survival detailed the classical pianist’s six years under Nazi occupation in Warsaw. Seizing upon the book as his next film, Polanski selected South African born playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood — whose play Taking Sides also featured a composer caught in the maelstrom of World War II — to adapt a screenplay. France’s Le Studio Canal largely financed the €38 million (roughly $33 million) production in association with England’s Cadre Films and after Joseph Fiennes declined the role in order to remain on the British stage, Polanski arrived on Adrien Brody to portray Szpilman. The actor went from 160 to 130 pounds in six weeks to prepare for the part.

Filmed at Babelsburg Studios in Berlin, with additional shooting in the Braga district outside Warsaw, what sets The Pianist apart from WWII dramas like Saving Private Ryan or Enemy At the Gates is its simplicity and grace. Written immediately after the occupation, Szpilman’s story is resplendent in detail and confident enough in its truth not to employ artificiality or unearned sentiments. Turning genre conventions on their head, we meet Jews who are less than virtuous and at least one German who is more than pure evil, creating a landscape that provokes thought and feeling. A tale of genocide, the irony is that Polanski’s craftsmanship is so solid we wish the story kept going. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, Adrien Brody (Best Actor), Ronald Harwood (Best Adapted Screenplay) and Roman Polanski (Best Director) all won Oscars.

Pianist 2002 title card

In Warsaw of September 1939, pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) is performing Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp minor for Polish radio when German artillery shells hit the city. Szpilman’s violinist father (Frank Finlay), mother (Maureen Lipman), younger brother Henryk (Ed Stoppard) and two grown sisters (Julia Rayner, Jessica Kate Meyer) rejoice with the news that Britain and France have declared war on Germany, but Poland quickly falls under Nazi control. Szpilman has time to take an adoring cellist named Dorota (Emilia Fox) for coffee before the city’s 360,000 Jews are evicted from their homes and sealed inside a ghetto in October 1940. Szpilman finds employment as a piano player in an upper class Jewish café and along with Henryk, rejects an offer from a family friend named Heller (Roy Smiles) to join the Jewish Ghetto Police.

When Henryk is arrested, Szpilman appeals to Heller’s ego to secure his brother’s release. He keeps his family from being deported by obtaining employment certificates for them, but these prove worthless when in August 1942, the Szpilmans are herded onto trains bound for Treblinka. Heller pulls Szpilman off the line, sparing his life, but the pianist never sees his family again. He survives by joining a Jewish work detail and buys enough time to arrange for his escape. Harbored by friends, Szpilman is reunited with Dorota, now married and expecting a child. Once the Polish uprising begins in August 1944, he’s near the brink of famine. Scrounging for food in the deserted city, Szpilman comes to face to face with Captain Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann). Instead of being shot, the pianist is rewarded by an act of kindness after the German officer hears his music.

Pianist 2002 Adrien Brody

Pianist 2002 Ed Stoppard Adrien Brody Frank Finlay

Pianist 2002

Pianist 2002 Julia Rayner Maureen Lipman Adrien Brody Jessica Kate Meyer

Pianist 2002 Adrien Brody

Pianist 2002 Adrien Brody

Pianist 2002 Adrien Brody

Pianist 2002

Pianist 2002 Thomas Kretschmann

Pianist 2002 Adrien Brody

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 107,318 users: 94% for The Pianist

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 85 for The Pianist

What do you say?

Tags: Based on book · Bathtub scene · Brother/brother relationship · Brother/sister relationship · Concert · Crooked officer · Military · Music · No opening credits · Train

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment