Recent Historical Films



The Pianist (R. Polanski, 2002)






Produced by Roman Polanski, Robert Benmussa and Alain Sarde; directed by Roman Polanski; screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on the book by Wladyslaw Szpilman; cinematography by Pawel Edelman; production design by Allan Starski; art direction by Nenad Pecur; edited by Herve de Luze ; costume design by Anna Sheppard; music by Wojciech Kilar; starring Adrien Brody, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Ed Stoppard and Emilia Fox. Color, 149 minutes.




The film is adapted from the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish Jew who detailed his survival during World War II. A composer and a pianist, he played the last live music heard over Polish radio airwaves before Nazi artillery hit. During the brutal occupation, he eluded deportation and remained in the devastated Warsaw ghetto. There, he struggled to stay alive even when cast away from those he loved. He would eventually reclaim his artistic gifts and confront his fears, with aid from the unlikeliest of sources.


From the Director

"I always knew that one day I would make a film about this painful chapter in Polish history, but I did not want it to be based on my own life. As soon as I read the first chapter of Wladyslaw Szpilman's memoirs, I instantly knew that the Pianist would be the subject of my next film. I knew how to tell it. It was the story I was seeking: in spite of the horror, it is a positive account, full of hope. [...] The Pianist is a testimony to the power of music, the will to live, and the courage to stand against evil." (Roman Polanski).


Quotes on the Film

"The Pianist is a magnificent work of historical record, on a different scale to anything he has ever done, expertly scripted by Ronald Harwood and beautifully played by an international cast. Polanski makes a familiar story of persecution and inhumanity utterly fresh. By comparison, Spielberg's approach, with the girl in the red dress and the emotional manipulation of the women in the shower scene, seems sensationalist and sentimental." (Angus Wolfe Murray, Eye For Film).

"Roman Polanski's drama about the survival of a real-life Polish Jew, the pianist Wladyslav Szpilman (Adrien Brody), during the grim days of the Holocaust is a movie that has been perfectly produced. The sense of scale and detail is exact, and the violence is neither exaggerated nor minimized but presented with clear-eyed accuracy. Yet this is not a work of great originality or imagination. Its protagonist lacks depth, and the theme of survival through hiding is, by its very nature, redundant. The playwright Ronald Harwood adapted the 1946 book that Szpilman wrote about his experiences without attempting to open up the hero at all. Is he ashamed, defiant, guilty? Grateful for his luck? We haven't a clue. His survival is an anomaly, a mistake, a joke-and that may be why the story appealed to Polanski. Shot largely in Warsaw." (David Denby, The New Yorker).

"The Pianist has not only given the world Roman Polanski's deeply personal first-hand reflections on the Holocaust; it also marks the long overdue return to form of a great director". (Andrew Gumbel, The Independent).


Press Clippings


By Peter Travers

What strikes you first about The Pianist, aside from the fact that it is Roman Polanski's most personal and powerful film in years, is its rigorous lack of sentimentality. Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (The Dresser) never resort to phony Life Is Beautiful uplift in telling the true story of young pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish Jew who survived the Nazi invasion of Warsaw (where much of this film was shot) by hiding out and living like an animal. If the film lacks the heroic heft of Schindler's List, it is second to none in unflinching honesty.

In telling this harrowing tale, adapted from Szpilman's 1946 memoir, Polanski draws on his own childhood in Poland (he escaped the Krakow ghetto, though his mother died in a concentration camp) and his soul-deep faith in the tender mercies of art. Szpilman is first seen playing Chopin for Polish radio when the Nazi bombs fall in 1939. Until the end of war, when a Nazi officer (the superb Thomas Kretschmann) asks him to play, Szpilman is mostly alone, observing the horror through windows, hearing music only in his head.

That we never get inside Szpilman's head is the film's nagging flaw. Brody (Summer of Sam) works miracles at showing bruises beyond words and tears. But the script, eager to avoid glib posturing, denies the character fullness. That note of detachment could cost The Pianist in the Oscar race, as could the statutory-rape charges against Polanski that prompted the now sixty-nine-year-old director to flee the U.S. three decades ago. Still, nothing can detract from the film as a portrait of hell so shattering it's impossible to shake.

(Rolling Stone, 16 January 2003).