The Pianist is a 2002 biographical drama film directed by Roman Polanski based on the autobiography of the same name, by the Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in 1946. It stars Adrien Brody as Szpilman and recounts his life through the second world war in Poland under German occupation. The movie won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2002, followed by Academy Awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and a Best Actor for Brody, making him the youngest best actor winner till date.
The film sets the backdrop of what life was before the Germans attacked and shows the journey of the Szpilman family struggling to stay alive and together through tough times. Szpilman himself gets out of certain death multiple times, but his family is sent off to the Holocaust, to be put through a concentration camp.
Szpilman goes into hiding multiple times through help from trusted non-Jewish Poles, is occupied by the Germans to work at a construction site and is also left to fend for himself towards the end. Through the screen, you can feel the emotions that Brody skillfully portrays and brings tears to your eyes, glancing at the horrifying scenes of war. What keeps him going throughout is the hope that he would establish himself a musical career.
Brody’s acting is flawless in his portrayal of Szpilman, undergoing a strict method-acting regime to nail the role. An acting masterclass, it becomes tough to examine if Brody himself didn’t just survive 6 years of struggle for food and water. He literally puts himself into the shoes of Szpilman, allowing us to experience the horrid realities of the war ourselves.
Although you might feel that some parts were exaggerated and dramatized, the movie is an accurate translation from Szpilman’s autobiography and retells his experiences as is. The best part about the movie is the fact that Szpilman survived so miraculously and it was the keys of the piano that revived him into existence after giving up all hope.
Polanski’s effort to show the atrocities committed against the Jewish in the ghettos and camps has also come across very well. You genuinely feel sorrow, pain and grief throughout the movie and he did a great job in his attention to details that shape the narrative. It is indeed a harsh reality, not something for the feeble mind, but is one of the best adaptations of world war books. Having himself being subjected to such calamities when he was young,
Polanski’s personal touch is seen in the slow-moving but an evenly composed shots of zooming into Brody’s face, to capture the smallest of the small expression and grab the audience’s attention.
Why watch The Pianist?
It is an almost factually accurate account of what happened to the Jewish community before, during and after the war. It is at its basest sense, just observations of what happened and how Szpilman felt about what happened during the years of the wars, not an epic non-fictional retelling with glorious scenes. It is not for the fainthearted, with incredible moments of want to cry, and smile through the tears.
It is an emotional downhill and will definitely lead you to have another perspective of the war. If you are into a more light heart romance, check out The Notebook (2004) and for the horror fans, please check out the Fear Street trilogy (2021).