The Pianist

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Review byMatthew Turner21/01/2003

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 148 mins

Worthy, but dull and overlong tale – Brody is good and there are one or two impressive sequences, but it’s a mystery as to how this won the Palme D’Or.

Apparently, Steven Spielberg once asked Roman Polanski to direct Schindler’s List and the director refused, saying the subject matter was still too painful (he had lost family members to concentration camps during the war).

However, a string of flops, including the abysmal The Ninth Gate, have obviously changed Polanski’s mind and this is exactly the sort of epic tale that would, ordinarily, have Oscar written all over it.

His Only Friend Is A Piano…

The film is based on the true-life tale of Wadislaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a young man who is working as a radio pianist when the Nazis first occupy Poland. He and his family (including Maureen Lipman as his mother) are soon moved into a Warsaw ghetto, but the shocking brutality of the Nazis increases until the survivors are eventually herded onto trains and sent to concentration camps.

However, Szpilman escapes and instead hides in an empty apartment in Warsaw, with his only companion a piano that – symbolism alert - he is too afraid to play lest it give him away. (A scene where he ‘silently’ plays the piano is a definite highlight).

Going Mad Is Boring

The main problem with the film is that once he goes into hiding, he’s there for what seems like hours. In theory, the fact that the film is based on a true story means that a lot of the film’s slowness can be excused because “it actually happened” (or in this case, didn’t happen), but in practice, we’re talking about over 50 minutes of watching a man go mad in a room.

Oh, sure, he gets sick, he almost gets caught, one of his rooms blows up, but he never even attempts to get out of Warsaw and the drama of the situation gradually evaporates as a result.

Brody does well in the lead role - his hollow, emaciated features are perfectly suited to the part. However, the script doesn’t really allow us inside Szpilman’s head – we don’t really find out what makes him tick, why he keeps hiding, why he doesn’t make a run for it and so on.

Anne Frank Meets CastAway

The supporting cast are good, particularly Szpilman’s family and Thomas Kretschmann as the music-loving Nazi who takes pity on Szpilman. However, the film also completely wastes Emilia Fox in a minor role as at first a potential love interest and later someone who helps him out.

This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t have its impressive moments. One sequence, shot entirely from the perspective of the people in the apartment across the street shows the Nazis entering a house and murdering everyone inside and in the street. It’s a chilling scene, all the more effective for being played in continuous longshot. There are also some extremely tense moments, but these are few and far between.

The Pianist has already, jokingly, been referred to as ‘The Diary of Anne Frank meets CastAway’ and that’s not too far from the truth. In short, it’s probably best filed under ‘worthy but dull’.

Film Trailer

The Pianist
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Content updated: 17/11/2019 13:26

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