Polanski hits the right notes with The Pianist

Preview by Jack Foley

ROMAN Polanski became the talk of the summer of 2002 when his latest film, The Pianist, won the coveted Palme d’Or at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival (an honour which has previously been presented to the likes of Pulp Fiction).

Starring Adrien Brody (of Summer of Sam/The Thin Red Line fame), the movie tells the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a World War Two era Polish pianist who lived in the Warsaw ghettos, escaped from Nazi concentration camps and, thanks to his skill and flair for music, survived to tell about it.

The film is based on Szpilman’s own autobiography, Pianist, which was published in 1946 and marks something of a personal achievement for the 68-year-old Polanski, who told journalists at Cannes that he had waited his whole life to make it.

"The exciting thing about finding this material was that it was not my personal story," he revealed at a news conference. "It was something that I know about, something that I remember very well, something that helped me to recreate the period and events without talking about myself or people around me."

The director of films such as Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby was born to Jewish parents in Paris and returned to Poland when he was two.

After escaping the ghetto himself, he spent the war wandering through occupied Poland alone, while his parents were deported to a concentration camp, where his mother died.

Though likened to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, for its depiction of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the concentration camps, the film apparently refrains from apportioning blame, something which Polanski describes as a strength of the book.

Referring to the novel’s ‘very optimistic way of dealing with such a horror’, he also claimed that another of its strengths is its ‘restraint’.

"It shows that there are good and bad Poles, and the same goes for the Jews and the Germans. They're just simply human."

The film’s star, Brody, spoke equally as passionately about the project and the lengths he went to prepare for such an important role. He claims to have spent six months in isolation, lost a lot of weight and learnt to play Chopin - something he describes as being even more difficult than not eating.

Needless to say, critics hailed the film as Polanski’s finest movie in years, while heaping praise on Brody. In addition, it has been named best film by the National Society of Critics in America (announced recently). Click here for full story...

The film has also been nominated for Best Dramatic Film in this year’s Golden Globes, with Brody also receiving a nod for Best Actor. Expect it to feature prominently at the Oscars.

The movie opens in the UK on January 24.

US critical reaction…

As UK critics prepare to deliver their verdict, the US media ensured that The Pianist was equally well-received when it opened in the States over the first weekend of the New Year.

LA Weekly led the accolades, by predicting that it ‘will break your heart many times over’, while Film Journal International referred to it, simply, as ‘an important film’.

Slant Magazine awarded it three out of four and stated that it ‘achieves something that approaches near transcendence’.

There were some negative notices, however, with Hollywood Reporter opining that ‘you can't help feel disappointed that one of the few directors who actually lived through this tragic period isn't able to personalise the material more’.

Film Threat, meanwhile, felt that ‘you’ve seen it all before’, while Village Voice felt that it ‘suffers from over-explanation’.

But the reaction was generally positive. Entertainment Weekly awarded it a near-perfect A-, stating that the movie is one ‘of riveting power and sadness, a great match of film and filmmaker - and star, too’.

While the New York Times wrote that it is ‘one of the very few non-documentary movies about Jewish life and death under the Nazis that can be called definitive’.

The Chicago Tribune, however, perhaps sums it up best, stating that ‘The Pianist is the film Roman Polanski may have been born to make’.

RELATED STORIES: Click here for our review of the film...
Click here for an interview with Adrien Brody...
Click here for a feature on Holocaust Memorial Day...

PAST FOREIGN LANGUAGE/INDIE PREVIEWS: Click here for the Oscar buzz surrounding Ray Liotta in Narc...
Click here for the Oscar controversy surrounding China's epic, Hero...
Click here to find out about kinky, quirky Secretary...
Find out why the critics are raving about Personal Velocity. Click here...
Click here for audience Sundance fave, Real Women Have Curves...
Click here for Brosnan's labour of love, Evelyn...
Click here to find out about The Dancer Upstairs...
Click here for the divine Far From Heaven...
Click here to find out why Aniston is The Good Girl...
Click here for a look at Igby Goes Down...
Sandler finds critical acclaim and Punch-Drunk Love. Click here...
Farrell tries to connect with a sniper. Click here for Phone Booth preview...
Click here for a preview of Tadpole....
Click here to find out why Soderbergh's Full Frontal has been exposed by the critics...
Click here to find out why Mel Gibson finds himself irresistibly drawn to The Passion...
Click here for The Magdalene Sisters preview and Vatican controversy...
Click here for Sweet Sixteen details, Ken Loach's latest...
Click here for 11'09"01 short film preview and controversy...
Click here for El crimen del Padre Amaro. Mexican controversy...
Irréversible, a life-affirming film about rape? Click here...
Trouble Every Day, French vampire/cannibal flick. Click here...