Based on the extraordinary events of Polish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman's life, The Pianist
gave Roman Polanski the chance to revisit and distil his own experiences living as a Polish Jew during World War II. A long-awaited project for the director, this personal angle has resulted in a deeply affecting film that marks a startling return to form for Polanski.
Szpilman (Adrien Brody) is a pianist recording a recital for a local radio station when bombs drop on Warsaw in 1939, just before the Nazi occupation of the city really begins to take hold. As he and his family are slowly stripped of their rights, they endure the humiliation of being forced to live in a walled ghetto, already overcrowded with the entire Jewish population of Warsaw. In a lucky twist, Szpilman is handed the chance to escape, given that he leaves his family in the ghetto to be inevitably shipped off to concentration camps, becoming a fugitive living in terror and isolation.
Taking a classical and measured approach to structure and style, Polanski's elegant film depicts the brutalities and dehumanising experiences that Szpilman endured without making him a hero; he is more of an observer who is tortured by what he helplessly watches. With the film focusing on events entirely from his experiences yet furnished with very little dialogue, Brody gives a subtle yet powerful performance and the end result is devastating. This is as much a standout film for Polanski as it is for his immensely talented leading man.
On the DVD: The Pianist arrives on disc with a surprisingly sparse amount of extras. Only one is really substantial: "A Story of Survival", a 45-minute making of feature which gives a lot of time to Roman Polanski and his own experiences; both of making the film and relating it to his time spent in the Krakow ghetto during World War II. Adrien Brody also features, talking about his preparation for the role and his experiences working with Polanski on such a personal project. Featuring alongside is footage of the real Warsaw ghetto taken by Nazi soldiers and the photographs used as a basis for some of the film's key scenes. Most poignant are the images of the real Szpilman, who died in 2000, still finding pleasure in playing the piano despite his horrendous past. A photo gallery, trailer, posters and filmographies are perfunctory additions. --Laura Bushell
Award-winning drama telling the true story of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman's experiences in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. When the Jews of the city find themselves forced into a ghetto, Szpilman finds work playing in a café; and when his family is deported in 1942, he stays behind, works for a while as a labourer, and eventually goes into hiding in the ruins of the war-torn city. The film won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Oscars for Best Actor (Adrien Brody), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood) and Best Director (Roman Polanski).