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The Pianist

Music was his passion. Survival was his masterpiece. 

Year: 2002 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

Roman Polanski’s recent Oscar triumph appears to suggest that the American film industry is prepared to accept the enfant terrible back into its sweltering bosom. However, if he continues to make films as powerful, insightful and impressive outside of the studio system, then what reason can he have for returning to those who shunned him?

The Pianist is the true story of a Jewish pianist who lived through the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, charting his struggle for survival first in the ghetto, and then on the run, as he flees for his life under threat of extermination.  Ostensibly this is a film about a single man, but Polanski’s subtle direction and disturbing transient images make this, for the first hour at least, the story of a people, united in fear and death. Only as the numbers of Jews in Warsaw lessen dramatically and the Final Solution begins, do we focus on the titular pianist, who becomes a symbol of hope for his brethren who have forgotten how to believe in God.

Adrian Brody delivers the performance of his career (thus far, of course) as the principled musician who must watch his family and friends destroyed by the evil that pervades the streets, while the supporting cast convey admirably the unbearable truth that their occupiers have the power of life and death over them, and are not afraid to use it. Perhaps the greatest talent here though, is behind the camera. Polanski experienced first-hand the treatment of the Jews in Poland as a child, and his film reflects admirably the brutality of the regime while never succumbing to cheap sentimentalism.  There are no heroes in this film, just ordinary men and women facing extraordinary situations.

The Pianist is an outstanding film made by an outstanding director about an outstanding time in history. It is at once deeply disturbing, heartbreaking, and uplifting, and once again proves to an ambivalent world that there is no horror but that history can show us worse.

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

2003/2004 Autumn Term (35mm)