What You Need To Know:
THE PIANIST tells the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish pianist’s survival during the National Socialist Holocaust in World War II. After Hitler’s National Socialists conquer Poland, Szpilman’s family is forced to move to the Warsaw ghetto. They must scrounge for food to survive. Eventually, his family is taken away on one of the trains to the concentration camps, but Szpilman is left hiding alone in Warsaw. He almost dies several times. Finally, he survives because of the kindness of a German officer, who says that God wants Szpilman to survive. This one recognition of higher authority stands out as an indelible testimony to God’s grace. Perhaps, God wants Wladyslaw Szpilman to survive to tell the story of those who died.
There are minor flaws in this otherwise incredible movie, but Roman Polanski has done a extraordinary job of filmmaking. He has cast THE PIANIST brilliantly, set it beautifully and developed the story to an incredible intensity. THE PIANIST is not just another Holocaust movie; rather, it is a history, which has been brought to life and will speak to everyone with its good sense and to all who seek to understand the past.
(C, BB, LL, VV, A, D, M) Underlying Judeo-Christian worldview with moral perspective set during the horrible devastation of the Holocaust; eight obscenities and three profanities, which could be exclamations; intense holocaust violence, but not gory, including people shot at point blank range, people hunted, Jews beaten, boy beaten to death, talk of a mother smothering her child, man in wheelchair thrown off of balcony, war time fighting, guns, bombs, whippings, and terror; a kiss, alcohol in moderation; smoking; and, lying, cheating and stealing to survive.
Roman Polanski’s career has been marked by tragedy, the loss of his wife and her friends at the hands of Charles Manson’s murderous gang, and the shame of his involvement with an underaged girl which forced him to flee the U.S. In the midst of this, he has always been a director with which to be reckoned. THE PIANIST is arguably his best movie to date. Certainly, it is the first to give credit to God. Since Polanski survived the German National Socialist Holocaust in the Kracow ghetto, it is with intimate first-hand knowledge that he tells the story of another survivor, Wladyslaw Szpilman.
The movie opens with Szpilman playing the piano in a radio studio on Warsaw radio. Suddenly the sound of bombing is heard. The crew starts to move away from the window as the blast sweeps Szpilman off his piano stool. As he runs downstairs, he talks to an attractive blonde woman and invites her to go out with him.
When he returns home to his Jewish family, he finds out that all the Jews must all wear armbands symbolizing their identity. He meets the blonde and finds out that the café where they were going to dine excludes Jews. The park excludes Jews. The park bench excludes Jews. She is mortified. He takes a nonchalant attitude. Slowly and inexorably the noose tightens around the Jewish community.
His family is forced to move to the ghetto. They are forced to scrounge for food. Eventually his family is taken away on one of the trains to the concentration camps, and he is left hiding alone in Warsaw. He almost dies several times. Finally, he survives because of a German officer, who says that God wants Wladyslaw Szpilman to survive. This one recognition of higher authority stands out as an indelible testimony to God’s grace. Perhaps, God wants Wladyslaw Szpilman to survive to tell the story of those who died.
THE PIANIST builds to an incredible intensity. Every scene is thought out carefully. Like a concert, the movie is structured in a number of movements. In the first, Szpilman is trapped in the snare of the National Socialists. The second focuses on the horror of life in the Warsaw ghetto, including the shipping of his family off to the death camp. The third deals with Szpilman’s days of hiding and almost dying in an devastated Warsaw. In the crescendo, Szpilman unwittingly hides in the headquarters of the German army.
The first “f word” is uttered by the Communists when they come into the city, late in the movie. It stands out because it contrasts so clearly with the previous dialog.
The premeditation and care of the filmmaking presents some minor problems at the beginning of the movie, however. Several times the movie feels like scenes are inserted just to express the horror of the Holocaust. They are scenes that represent the enduring legends of the Holocaust. Although these legends were true, editing out the excess would have made a tighter better film, on the order of SCHINDLER’S LIST.
In one scene, a woman asks the pianist every time she sees him if he’s seen her husband. A little girl carries an empty birdcage. A boy is beaten to death climbing under a wall. A mother weeps for the child she smothered to escape the Nazis. No doubt these things happened, but the story is so powerful that these extra scenes do not add anything to it, but detract from the flow.
These are minor flaws in an otherwise incredible movie. Polanski has cast this movie beautifully. The star is authentic and aristocratic – thin, sharp-nosed, with incredible eyes. His acting is superb. In many Hollywood movies there is an attempt to make everyone look like an American. Each character in Polanski’s film stands out as unique and part of his own community.
The sets also are incredible. Polanski takes viewers from the beauty of pre-war Warsaw to a devastation that is hard to imagine. As it is, the movie is almost a documentary with the power of drama. THE PIANIST deserved the Cannes Film Festival Palm d’Or.
It has, however, a lot of violence: point blank shootings, a man in a wheelchair thrown off a balcony, children beaten to death, people driven over with cars, men whipped mercilessly. The pain can be felt by the audience.
Interestingly enough, there is no sex or nudity in the movie. For a director who previously lingered on sex scenes, this movie is almost chaste.
Going into the film, there is a tendency to say, “Not one more Holocaust movie,” but this is not just another Holocaust movie. It is a history, which has been brought to life by a brilliant mind and will speak to everyone with its good sense, to all who seek to understand the past.