Review by: Simon Bell | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: 'A Story of Survival' (40 minutes);
Theatrical trailer. Filmographies on Roman Polanski, Adrien Brody,
Thomas Kretschmann; Photo gallery.
IT'S BEEN a long wait for Roman Polanski fans. Nearly nine years
since Sigourney Weaver stuffed her knickers into Ben Kingsley's
mouth in Death and the Maiden, to be exact. (I'm not counting
1999's The Ninth Gate. I don't think even Roman would himself.)
The best part of a decade and, although no match for his seminal
Chinatown (1974) - one of 20th Century cinema's most important
works in fact - it's bloody well worth it: Tense and dark, but
not heavy or depressing
And with a few deft moments of comedy.
The true story of Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman battling
to survive the Nazi menace in the Warsaw ghetto of World War II,
Polanski here draws on his own experience as a Holocaust survivor;
one who witnessed his parents being dragged off to concentration
camps and one who himself made a narrow escape.
The director turned down Steven Spielberg's offer to direct Schindler's
List (1993) because, he insists, the material was too personal
and too disturbing. The true horror was just more truthful than
Roman felt comfortable with.
Strange, coming from the man who gave the world Rosemary's Baby
(1968) and Repulsion (1965).
Still, his patience paid off: Not counting the fevered Oscar
buzz around the picture, the diminutive Hollywood exile picked
up the Palme d'Or at last year's Cannes and pretty much swept
the board at most other critics' awards. (Famous English playwright
and screenwriter Ronald Harwood and lead player Adrien Brody have
also been lavished with praise across the global circuit.)
Although in the main this movie is cool and detached (much as
Schindler's most definitely wasn't), Polanski is mindful to show
as much compassion as he is the cruelty. There's no clear cut
good and evil here: Good Jews mingle and come to blows with bad
Jews, just as good and bad Poles are shown suffering the same
Care is also taken to show that, maybe, not all the German soldiers
were raging psychopaths after all.
Everything is seen through the eyes of our central character,
from the beginnings of his lone struggle to the dramatically intensified
latter stages of hunger and total destitution.
Brody retains balance from start to finish and underplays the
role to perfection, at the same time having us fear for his health.
Great support from, among others, British stalwarts Frank Finlay
and Maureen Lipman as his parents add to the overall air of passivity
and vulnerability that is finally smashed to smithereens.
Well worth the hype for once.