Winner of Palme d’Or at 2002 Cannes Film Festival & three Academy Awards including Best Director, crafted with meticulous care & attention to detail, told with immaculate sensitivity and presenting an objective take on the disturbing subject of Holocaust despite being helmed by a Holocaust survivor himself, The Pianist is the most aesthetic, artistic & personal film esteemed filmmaker Roman Polanski has made in his directional career plus it also happens to feature one of modern cinema’s most astounding performances.
Based on the autobiography of the same name and set in Warsaw, Poland during the Second World War, The Pianist tells the story of Władysław Szpilman; a Polish-Jewish musician who after witnessing the deportation of his entire family to Nazi extermination camps tries to elude capture by hiding in the ruins of his city. The plot details his miraculous survival throughout the remaining years of the last great war which never would have come to fruition if it wasn’t for the kindness of many compassionate people & enormous amount of good luck.
Directed by Roman Polanski, The Pianist does bring back the horrors of the Holocaust in unflinching detail and never really shies away from depicting the brutality that millions of people underwent during Nazi occupation but it isn’t a tale about any war hero who started an uprising against his oppressors or any compassionate human being who put his life on the line to save others. It’s the story of an ordinary man who did what anyone under the same situation would choose to do: Survive, no matter what it takes. And through Szpilman, it aims to represent the plight of many others.
Polanski also infuses elements of his own life into the story but doesn’t get carried away or let it distract his envisioned version of the narrative at hand, and therein lies the true beauty of this cinema. Bringing more reinforcement into the story is the brilliantly adapted screenplay by Ronald Harwood which keeps the focus on our protagonist at all times and patiently develops the arc of his character which pays off amazingly well when audience shows no hesitation in investing their emotions into that character. And the excellence in the technical departments only end up enhancing the whole experience.
Production Design team does an outstanding job in duplicating the war-torn setting of 1940s Warsaw and every single set piece is wonderfully detailed. Cinematography makes impeccable use of its camera to capture every frame splendidly plus the cold colour tones only end up encapsulating the whole film with a bleak mood. Despite being nearly 150 minutes long, the story never feels dull or tiresome, thanks to the precisely carried out trimming in the Editing room. And from start to finish, the classical tracks incorporated into the picture fuse seamlessly with the sequences, with the best one saved for the last.
But that’s not all. For what catapults this already accomplished cinema to an even higher level of greatness is the extraordinary performance by Adrien Brody in the given role of Władysław Szpilman. Clearly demonstrating not just the painful feeling of hopelessness, loneliness & sorrow but also the desperation, survival instinct & everlasting passion for music while living under constant fear, what Brody delivers here is truly one of the most memorable performances to surface on the silver screen that remains the proudest work of his acting career, so far. And amongst the supporting cast, it’s Thomas Kretschmann who manages to make his mark despite his short screen time.
On an overall scale, The Pianist is an extremely distressing, emotionally devastating & powerfully moving cinema that marks the career-high moment for both Roman Polanski & Adrien Brody and is absolutely deserving of all the accolades it has garnered over the years. It definitely isn’t going to be an easy sit for many but you’ll be a better person for having done so because some films, no matter how disturbing, deserve to be viewed and Polanski’s magnum opus is definitely one of those cinematic treasures. One of the finest historical dramas in existence, The Pianist is Polanski’s greatest masterpiece that comes essentially recommended to every film lover out there. Don’t miss it.