Probably the least obscure of the five movies nominated for Best Picture, "The Pianist" tells the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish pianist who avoided the Nazi concentration camps, at the cost of losing all he held dear. Directed by the exiled Roman Polanski, who is also up for an Oscar, "The Pianist" is one of the best movies of the year.
It is a strange phenomenon that Holocaust movies continue to be churned out nearly yearly, and often tend to be quite good. Most other genres - including war films - tire after a while, because the stories have grown to be too similar or the audience's interest just fades. Not so with Holocaust films. "The Pianist," essentially, is not all that different from other Holocaust movies. We know that the Jews were rounded up. We know that Nazis treated them horribly, ultimately killing millions. We know that a few survived through help from non-Jews that lived nearby. We know it and we've seen it a hundred times. Yet, we keep coming back for more, and why? The truth of the matter is that no matter how similar the stories are that come from the Holocaust, they are still different. There are so many true stories to tell, and each one is interesting. These stories are here to remind us of just how horrible humanity can be, and it happened in modern times.
"The Pianist" is long and occasionally a little drawn out in places, but never boring. It tells the story of a man's descent from a quality life to near death, but not defeat. Polanski does an exceptional job of allowing us to watch the continual degradation of Szpilman as he goes from place to place, trying to survive as best he can. Many of the things this man went through are incredible.
Polanski also does a good job in portraying ghetto and Jewish life without trying to shock the audience with mere images. There are many films that depend greatly on the imagery of shriveled people on the edge of the death. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, Polanski does not need it here; he effectively captures the mood of the times with only a few absolutely horrible scenes (such as the man in the wheelchair). Granted that Szpilman never entered the concentration camps, at the end of this film I was stunned that anyone could survive (mentally and physically) through something like this, even though I thought I knew what to expect.
To cap things off, Adrien Brody, also nominated for an Oscar for his performance here, is superb. There are many scenes where Brody is completely alone, yet he keeps the scene alive. This film is solely based on his character, and it was up to Brody to keep the movie focused. He does an incredible job.
"The Pianist" is one of the most exceptional films of the year. It did not completely overpower me, but came close.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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