Tuesday, September 14

Review: The Pianist

The Holocaust is without doubt the single worst thing the human race has ever devised. The systematic murder of six million Jews and many million more gypsies, homosexuals, communists, mentally handicapped and basically everyone the Nazi regime didn't like is such an absurdly tragic event that it still has the capability to bring people to tears.

And then Hollywood found out about this. Ever since Schindlers List (which is a great film) won an Oscar, there have been a slew of movies that have used one of the most horrible events in history as their setting, or more precisely: as their excuse. The absolute low point in this was The Reader, a wholly uninteresting love story served with a sauce of genocide to make it a little more edible. The Pianist, luckily, is one of the movies that manages to avoid the cliches and be beautiful and touching without rubbing in our face how in beautiful and touching it is.

The story of The Pianist is that of Władysław Szpilman, a real-life pianist who managed to survive the "purging" in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw. Most of the time, this just means he tries to hide as good as he can, sometimes alone, sometimes with the aid of others. It's not a grand or epic story per se, but that is exactly what makes the movie work so well: its sense of understatement.

 Everybody who owned these things is dead. Think about that for a while.

Roman Polanski, who directed the movie and survived the Holocaust himself as a kid, deserves our eternal thanks for not making the movie sentimental. Szpilman isn't shown as some kind of saint, he is just one guy out of a million whose fortune was better then that of everyone around him. His motivation to survive isn't driven by some kind of moral purpose, he just wants to survive. That he is able to do so has more to do with a series of extremely lucky coincidences then with his strength of character. This makes both the person and the film much more complex and intriguing then if he was the kind of guardian angel that has flocked so many of the bad Holocaust movies.

A lot of this complexity is also due to Adrien Brody. How he dedicated himself to the role is amazing in itself, but what he eventually did with it is almost superhuman. Most of the film he is completely alone, but he still manages to fill the screen with this enormous presence. This is film acting in the way it was meant to be: communicating not with monologues, as stage actors do, but with subtle gestures and physical presence. Brody is the only American who ever won a Cesar award (the French oscars) for a single role, and rightly so. The movie is worth seeing for this stunning performance alone.

But what truly makes The Pianist such a great film is the realization that will hit you when the movie is done: that this story is just a single point of view, just a single story in a time and place that had too much going on to even tell. This humility is what makes The Pianist a truly stunning experience that you won't soon forget. Highly recommended.


The music of today was suggested to me by a girl who is a pianist herself.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review. The reasons you give for liking this movie makes me want to see it! :)