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Pianist, The

Director: Roman Polanski

U.K.-France-Germany-Netherlands- Poland| 2002. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 150 mins.


Winner of the Palme d’or at Cannes and a best directing Oscar, The Pianist is the most harrowing evocation of the Holocaust since Schindler’s List, though sharing that film’s redeeming shafts of hope and humanity. Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) is a concert pianist in Warsaw whose career is cut short by the Nazi invasion. The war years become a day-to-day scramble for survival amidst death and devastation. As in Death and the Maiden, though with a different inflection, music serves as ironic counterpoint to the surrounding cacophony and carnage: at one point the hero is tormented by the presence of a piano in his hiding place and hears only in his head what he dare not play. Everything builds to an encounter with a German captain (Thomas Kretschmann) in an attic where he has to give the performance of his life and where the universality of great music dissolves national difference. Adrien Brody’s Oscar–winning performance is a wonderfully understated study of passive resistance; and in the tense scenes of hiding, the stubborn will to live, Polanski, one suspects, is close to his own childhood—the solitariness, the terror, the resilience.

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