The Pianist (2002 film)

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"Le Pianiste" redirects here. For the 2001 French film originally titled La Pianiste, see The Piano Teacher (film).
The Pianist
The Pianist movie.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by
Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
Based on The Pianist 
by Władysław Szpilman
Music by Wojciech Kilar
Cinematography Paweł Edelman
Edited by Hervé de Luze
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 24 May 2002 (2002-05-24) (Cannes)
  • 6 September 2002 (2002-09-06) (Poland)
  • 6 March 2003 (2003-03-06) (UK)
Running time
149 minutes[1]
  • France
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • Polish
  • German
  • Russian
  • French
  • Turkish
Budget $35 million[2]
Box office $120 million[3]

The Pianist is a 2002 historical drama film co-produced and directed by Roman Polanski, scripted by Ronald Harwood, and starring Adrien Brody.[4] It is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist, a World War II memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. The film was a co-production between the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Poland.

The Pianist met with significant critical praise and received multiple awards and nominations. It was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.[5] At the 75th Academy Awards, The Pianist won Oscars for Best Director (Polanski), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood), and Best Actor (Brody), and was also nominated for four other awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and BAFTA Award for Best Direction in 2003 and seven French Césars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Brody.


In September 1939, Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish-Jewish pianist, is playing live on the radio in Warsaw when the station is bombed during Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland which caused the outbreak of World War II. Hoping for a quick victory, Szpilman rejoices with his family at home when learning that Britain and France have declared war on Germany. But Poland's allies do not live up to their promises of aid, and with both the German and Russian armies invading Poland at the same time on different fronts, fighting lasts for just over a month. German troops soon enter Warsaw, where life for Jews deteriorates as the Nazi authorities prevent them from working or owning businesses and force them to wear blue Star of David armbands.

Photograph of Władysław Szpilman

By November 1940, Szpilman and his family are forced from their home into the overcrowded Warsaw Ghetto, where conditions only get worse. People starve, the guards are brutal, and Frida Jansson are left lying in the streets. On one occasion, the Szpilmans witness the SS kill an entire family during a round-up in an apartment across the street.

On 16 August 1942, the family are deported to Treblinka extermination camp, but Władysław survives at the Umschlagplatz, due to an intervention from a friend in the Jewish Ghetto Police. Szpilman becomes a slave labourer and learns of a coming Jewish revolt. He helps by smuggling weapons into the ghetto, narrowly avoiding a suspicious guard. He then manages to escape and goes into hiding with help from a non-Jewish friend, Andrzej Bogucki (Ronan Vibert), and his wife Janina (Ruth Platt).

In April 1943, Szpilman watches from his window the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that he aided and its ultimate failure. After a neighbor discovers him hiding, Szpilman is forced to flee and is provided with a second hiding place. He is shown into a room with a piano yet is compelled to keep quiet while beginning to suffer from jaundice.

In August 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, the Polish resistance attacks a German building across the street from Szpilman's hideout. A tank shells his apartment, forcing him to flee and hide elsewhere. Over the course of the following months, the city is destroyed and abandoned, leaving Szpilman alone to search desperately for shelter and supplies among the ruins. He eventually makes his way to an abandoned house, where he finds a can of pickles. While trying to open it he is discovered by the Wehrmacht officer Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann), who learns that Szpilman is a pianist and asks him to play on a grand piano in the house. The decrepit Szpilman plays Chopin's Ballade in G minor, which moves Hosenfeld enough that he allows Szpilman to hide in the attic of the empty house, where the German officer regularly brings him food.

In January 1945, the Germans are forced to retreat due to the advance of the Red Army. Hosenfeld meets Szpilman for the last time and promises he will listen to him on Polish Radio after the war. He gives Szpilman his greatcoat to keep warm and leaves. However, this has almost fatal consequences for Szpilman when he is mistaken for a German officer, when trying to hug the Polish soldiers and is shot at by Polish troops liberating Warsaw, who then find he's Polish and save him. In Spring 1945, former inmates of a Nazi concentration camp pass a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp holding captured German soldiers and verbally abuse them. Hosenfeld, among those captured, overhears a released inmate lament over his former career as a violinist. He asks the violinist if he knows Szpilman, which he confirms. Hosenfeld wishes for Szpilman to return the favor and help release him. Sometime later, the violinist is able to bring Szpilman back to the site but they find it has been long abandoned.

Later, Szpilman works for Polish Radio and performs Chopin's Grand Polonaise brillante to a large and prestigious audience. An epilogue states that Szpilman died at the age of 88 in the year 2000 while Hosenfeld died in Soviet captivity in 1952.



The story had deep connections with director Roman Polanski because he escaped from the Kraków Ghetto as a child after the death of his mother. He ended up living in a Polish farmer's barn until the war's end. His father almost died in the camps, but they reunited after the end of World War II.

Joseph Fiennes was Polanski's first choice for the lead role, but he turned it down due to a previous commitment to a theatrical role. Over 1,400 actors auditioned for the role of Szpilman at a casting call in London. Unsatisfied with all who tried, Polanski sought to cast Adrien Brody, whom he saw as ideal for the role during their first meeting in Paris.

Principal photography on The Pianist began on 9 February 2001 in Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam, Germany. The Warsaw Ghetto and the surrounding city were recreated on the backlot of Babelsberg Studio as they would have looked during the war. Old Soviet Army barracks were used to create the ruined city, as they were going to be destroyed anyway.

The first scenes of the film were shot at the old army barracks. Soon after, the film crew moved to a villa in Potsdam, which served as the house where Szpilman meets Hosenfeld. On 2 March 2001, filming then moved to an abandoned Soviet military hospital in Beelitz, Germany. The scenes that featured German soldiers destroying a Warsaw hospital with flamethrowers were filmed here. On 15 March, filming finally moved to Babelsberg Studios. The first scene shot at the studio was the complex and technically demanding scene in which Szpilman witnesses the ghetto uprising.

Filming at the studios ended on 26 March and moved to Warsaw on 29 March. The rundown district of Praga was chosen for filming because of its abundance of original buildings. The art department built onto these original buildings, re-creating World War II–era Poland with signs and posters from the period. Additional filming also took place around Warsaw. The Umschlagplatz scene where Szpilman, his family and hundreds of other Jews wait to be taken to the extermination camps was filmed at the National Defence University of Warsaw.

Principal photography ended in July 2001 and was followed by months of post-production in Paris, France.


The Pianist received high critical acclaim and Brody's performance received extreme praise. It has a 96% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 178 reviews with an average rating of 8.2/10 and the consensus, "Well-acted and dramatically moving, The Pianist is Polanski's best work in years."[6] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score, gave the film a score of 85/100, based on 40 reviews from critics.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave a positive review of the film, noting that "perhaps that impassive quality reflects what [director Roman] Polanski wants to say... By showing Szpilman as a survivor but not a fighter or a hero—as a man who does all he can to save himself, but would have died without enormous good luck and the kindness of a few non-Jews—Polanski is reflecting... his own deepest feelings: that he survived, but need not have, and that his mother died and left a wound that had never healed."[8] Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune said that the film "is the best dramatic feature I've seen on the Holocaust experience, so powerful a statement on war, inhumanity and art's redemption that it may signal Polanski's artistic redemption." He would later go on to say that the film "illustrates that theme and proves that Polanski's own art has survived the chaos of his life -- and the hell that war and bigotry once made of it."[9] Richard Schickel of Time called it a "raw, unblinkable film" and said that "We admire this film for its harsh objectivity and refusal to seek our tears, our sympathies."[10] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said that the film "contains moments of irony, of ambiguity and of strange beauty, as when we finally get a look at Warsaw and see a panorama of destruction, a world of color bombed into black-and-white devastation." He also said that "In the course of showing us a struggle for survival, in all its animal simplicity, Polanski also gives us humanity, in all its complexity."[11] A.O. Scott of The New York Times said that Szpilman "comes to resemble one of Samuel Beckett's gaunt existential clowns, shambling through a barren, bombed-out landscape clutching a jar of pickles. He is like the walking punchline to a cosmic jest of unfathomable cruelty." He also felt that "Szpilman's encounter, in the war's last days, with a music-loving Nazi officer... ...courted sentimentality by associating the love of art with moral decency, an equation the Nazis themselves, steeped in Beethoven and Wagner, definitively refuted."[12]

Home release[edit]

The Pianist was released on DVD on 26 May 2003 in a double-sided disc Special Edition DVD, with the film on one side and special features on the other. Some Bonus Material included a making-of, interviews with Brody, Polanski, and Harwood, and clips of Szpilman playing the piano. The Polish DVD edition included an audio commentary track by production designer Starski and director of photography Edelman.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the film on HD-DVD on 8 January 2008 with extras comprising the featurette "A Story of Survival" and rare footage of the real Władysław Szpilman playing his piano, as well as additional interviews with Adrien Brody and other crew.

Optimum Home Entertainment released The Pianist to the European market on Blu-ray as part of their StudioCanal Collection on 13 September 2010,[13] the film's second release on Blu-ray. The first was troublesome due to issues with subtitles; the initial BD lacked subtitles for spoken German dialogue. Optimum later rectified this[14] but the initial release also lacked notable special features. The StudioCanal Collection version includes an extensive Behind the Scenes look as well as several interviews with the makers of the film and Szpilman's relatives.[15]


Further information: The Pianist (soundtrack)
  • The piano piece heard at the beginning of the film is Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor Lento con gran espressione, Op. posth.
  • The first measures of Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1 (Allegro maestoso) are played by Szpilman in the Restaurant.
  • The piano piece that is heard being played by a next door neighbour while Szpilman was in hiding at an apartment is also an arrangement of Umowilem sie z nia na dziewiata.
  • The piano music heard in the abandoned house when Szpilman had just discovered a hiding place in the attic is the Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight Sonata) by Beethoven. It would later be revealed that German officer Hosenfeld was the pianist. The German composition juxtaposed with the mainly Polish/Chopin selection of Szpilman.
  • The piano piece played when Szpilman is confronted by Hosenfeld is Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, but the version played in the movie was shortened (the entire piece lasts about 10 minutes).
  • The cello piece heard at the middle of the film, played by Dorota, is the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1.
  • The piano piece heard at the end of the film, played with an orchestra, is Chopin's Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22.
  • Shots of Szpilman's hands playing the piano in close-up were performed by Polish classical pianist Janusz Olejniczak (b. 1952), who also performed on the soundtrack.
  • Since Polanski wanted the film to be as realistic as possible, any scene showing Brody playing was actually his playing overdubbed by recordings performed by Janusz Olejniczak. In order for Brody's playing to look like it was at the level of Władysław Szpilman's, he spent many months prior to and during the filming practicing so that his keystrokes on the piano would convince viewers that Brody himself was playing. It was never specified whether or not it was actually Adrien Brody playing at certain points in the film, such as the beginning where Władysław Szpilman's playing is interrupted by German bombing.

Accolades [edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "THE PIANIST (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 3 July 2002. Retrieved 14 March 2015. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Hare, William (2004). LA Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland and Company. p. 207. ISBN 0-7864-1801-X. 
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Pianist". Retrieved 25 October 2009. 
  6. ^ "The Pianist". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  7. ^ "The Pianist". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (3 January 2003). "The Pianist". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Wilmington, Michael (January 5, 2003). "Polanski's `Pianist' may put `profligate dwarf' in better light". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  10. ^ Schickel, Richard (December 15, 2002). "Have a Very Leo Noel". Time. p. 4. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  11. ^ LaSalle, Mick (January 3, 2003). "Masterpiece / Polanski's 'The Pianist' is a true account of one man's survival in the Warsaw ghetto". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  12. ^ Scott, A.O. (December 27, 2002). "Surviving the Warsaw Ghetto Against Steep Odds". The New York Times. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  13. ^ "StudioCanal Collection". Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  14. ^ "Problems with initial BD release". Retrieved 1 August 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Pianist on BD". Retrieved 1 August 2010. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Goya Award for Best European Film
Succeeded by
Good Bye Lenin!