#51 The Pianist [2002]


FYI I can't be bothered to keep the spoilers out of this one.



If this weren't a true story, I'd be inclined to think that the entire film emerged from one central idea - the scene towards the end where starving, homeless pianist Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody) plays for German officer Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretchmann). Szpilman is a Polish Jew who has been evading capture in the streets of Warsaw since the Nazi invasion in 1939, five years ago. This is seemingly the end of his story. Yet, his performance moves the officer to the extent that he decides to hide and help Szpilman, at great personal risk. It's an incredibly moving moment, restoring a sense of humanity to a situation where it has been decimated by hatred and fear. Music and art, which were bombed out of existence in the opening scenes of the film, take centre stage once again.
It is, perhaps, all the more moving for the fact that this is a true story: The Pianist is based on the real life Szpilman's memoirs. Some critics have complained about the film's tight focus on Szpilman's experience, claiming that it doesn't achieve the scale of Schindler's List. Well, perhaps it didn't intend to, seeing at the world already had Schindler's List. Instead, director Roman Polanski concentrates on one man's suffering, anchoring the tragedy and, in a way, making it more accessible. When portraying the suffering of a people group it's easy to distance to emotion as it becomes an abstract. When we're involved so personally in one character's trauma, it's inescapable. What's more, Polanski himself has a survivor's story, having escaped the Ghettos during WW2, hiding out for the rest of the war in a farmer's barn. Familiar with the grief and loss which Szpilman narrates in his memoirs, the director's interpretation of the source material has a veracity in itself. 
Szpilman survives, just, whilst all those whom he loves are lost: following their desperate struggles to maintain their dignity in the horrors of the Ghetto, his family are taken to Auschwitz. It is Szpilman's fame and luck that see him through. Generally, this film is seen as a portrayal of impassive survival. Szpilman is no hero, nor is he a fighter. For much of the film he is simply hiding, being as quiet as humanly possible and observing the desolation of his life, loved ones and homeland. As such, there is no over-sentimentalisation nor any heavy handed ploys to draw out our tears. Instead, our sorrow is real and heart-felt, and I sobbed like a baby, or rather a woman watching a emotionally harrowing movie.
If you haven't yet seen The Pianist then I severely stress the necessity of your doing so. Only, it might be a good idea to watch it alone as I did, unless you're trying to prove your sensitive side.

Comments

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/dec/28/roman-polanski-films-retrospective?intcmp=ILCMUSIMG9382

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