The Pianist Review
Given the long, troubled history of director Roman Polanski, it's surprising that he has finally chosen to make a film based on the holocaust. Spielberg had tried to enlist the director as an unofficial technical advisor whilst making Schinder's List, but Polanski eventually declined claiming that his own traumatic memories of the incident were too strong to warrant recall.
Based on the past of Polanski, it's surprising that The Pianist, the Palmes D'Or winner at last year Cannes film festival, is refreshingly even-handed when tackling the atrocities handed out to the Jews by the Nazi's. Far from being an easy dehumanising exercise at the expense of the Nazis’ warcrimes, The Pianist instead chooses to reflect on a true story that suggests that good spirits can be unlocked from any person.
Adrien Brody provides a fine performance as Wladyslaw Szpilman, a gifted pianist who is separated from his family by the invading Nazis, and fortunately manages to escape capture by enduring a harsh, secluded lifestyle. Hiding away from the terrible events he is all too aware of, Szpilman struggles to maintain his survival both from the elements and his own pursuing oppressors.
Whilst it is hard to fault The Pianist there is something that feels almost belated about the whole subject of the Holocaust. It's almost a dead genre of cinema now, like the traditional Western or the Vietnam War. Watching many films dealing with the subject, such as Shoah or Schindler's List will cause some viewers to be immune to the harsh proceedings that are constantly depicted. Maybe The Pianist is twenty years too late? By now, it's easy to predict the horrific fate of many of the onscreen characters, and the lack of surprise almost subverts the film's impact.
It’s possible that Polanski is interested only in turning expectations on their head, and that the film is too mechanical therefore as a result. The Pianist fails to tell us anything new about the Holocaust, nor does it stir up any new emotions. Essentially, it aims to be everything that Schinder's List wasn't. Therefore, it's two-and-a-bit hours of full colour directness without a trace of sentiment or over-dosed saccharine. It’s a fine antithesis to anyone who fails to understand the fuss about Spielberg’s labour of love.
Supporting performances are sadly not as strong as Brody’s fine central performance. An almost unrecognisable Maureen Lipman appears as Szpilman’s mother, and Emilia Fox also turns in a credible performance, but each actor just forces more of the emphasis on Brody’s shoulders.
Far too black to impress the sanitised Oscar committee, The Pianist is still a strong film on a subject that, despite teaching us one of the most important humanitarian lessons, has been exhausted of dramatic interest.