The Pianist (2002 film)
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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Roman Polanski|
|Produced by||Roman Polanski
|Screenplay by||Ronald Harwood|
|Based on||the book The Pianist
by Władysław Szpilman
|Music by||Wojciech Kilar|
|Editing by||Hervé de Luze|
|Distributed by||Focus Features
|Running time||150 minutes|
The Pianist is a 2002 biographical war drama film directed by Roman Polanski, scripted by Ronald Harwood and starring Adrien Brody. 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 is a co-production between Poland, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The Pianist met with significant critical praise and received multiple awards and nominations. The film was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. 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, a Polish-Jewish pianist, plays on radio in Warsaw when the station is bombed during Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland at the outbreak of World War II. Hoping for a quick victory, Szpilman rejoices with family at home when learning that Britain and France have declared war on Germany. But Germany defeats Poland quickly and its troops enter Warsaw, where life for Jews deteriorates as the Nazi authorities prevent them working or owning businesses, and force them to wear Star of David armbands.
By November 1940, Szpilman and his family have been forced from their home into the overcrowded Warsaw Ghetto where conditions only get worse. People starve, the guards are brutal and corpses are left in the streets. On one occasion, the Szpilmans witness the SS kill an entire family during a łapanka (raid) in an apartment across the street. In August 16, 1942, the family are deported to Treblinka extermination camp, but Szpilman 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 non-Jewish friend Andrzej Bogucki and his wife Janina. In April 1943, from his window, Szpilman observes the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising he aided and its ultimate failure. After a neighbor discovers him, Szpilman is forced to flee and is provided with a second hiding place. He is shown into a room with a piano, yet forced to keep quiet, while beginning to suffer jaundice.
In August 1944, the Polish resistance attack a German building across the street from Szpilman's hideout during the Warsaw Uprising. A tank shells his apartment, forcing him to escape and hide elsewhere. Over the course of the next 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 home where he finds a can of pickles. While trying to open it he is discovered by the Wehrmacht officer Wilm Hosenfeld, who learns that Szpilman is a pianist and asks him to play on a grand piano in the house. The decrepit Szpilman plays Ballade in G minor, which moves Hosenfeld. He allows Szpilman to hide in the attic of the empty house and 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 as a German officer and shot at by Polish troops liberating Warsaw, who then apprehend 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 the violinist 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 performs Chopin's Grand Polonaise brillante to a large and prestigious audience. An epilogue states that Szpilman died at the age of 88 in 2000, while Hosenfeld died in Soviet captivity in 1952.
- Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman
- Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld
- Frank Finlay as Father Szpilman
- Maureen Lipman as Mother Szpilman
- Ronan Vibert as Andrzej Bogucki
- Ruth Platt as Janina Bogucki
- Emilia Fox as Dorota
- Michał Żebrowski as Jurek
- Ed Stoppard as Henryk
- Jessica Kate Meyer as Halina
- Julia Rayner as Regina
- Roy Smiles as Itzhak Heller
- Richard Ridings as Mr. Lipa
- Daniel Caltagirone as Majorek
- Valentine Pelka as Dorota's husband
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 the theatre. 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, which took place in Paris, France.
The Pianist received extremely positive reviews from film critics. 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." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score, gave the film a score of 85/100, based on 40 reviews from critics.
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." 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." 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." 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." 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."
Home release 
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,, 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 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.
- 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 piano piece that is heard being played by a next door neighbour while Szpilman was in hiding at an apartment was Chopin's Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 4.
- 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 Polański wanted the film to be as realistic as possible, any scene showing Brody playing was actually his playing voiced over 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.
- Academy Award for Best Actor – Adrien Brody
- Academy Award for Best Director – Roman Polanski
- Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – Ronald Harwood
- Palme d'Or, 2002 Cannes Film Festival
- BAFTA Award for Best Film
- BAFTA Award for Best Direction – Roman Polanski
- César Award for Best Actor
- César Award for Best Director
- César Award for Best Film
- César Award for Best Music Written for a Film
- César Award for Best Cinematography
- César Award for Best Production Design
- César Award for Best Sound
- Goya Award for Best European Film
- Academy Award for Best Cinematography – Paweł Edelman
- Academy Award for Best Costume Design – Anna B. Sheppard
- Academy Award for Film Editing – Hervé de Luze
- Academy Award for Best Picture
- BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography – Paweł Edelman
- BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role – Adrien Brody
- BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay – Ronald Harwood
- BAFTA Award for Best Sound – Jean-Marie Blondel, Dean Humphreys, Gérard Hardy
See also 
- Hare, William LA Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels Macfarland and Company Jefferson, North Carolina page 207
- "Festival de Cannes: The Pianist". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 25 October 2009.
- "The Pianist". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
- "The Pianist". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
- Ebert, Roger (3 January 2003). "The Pianist". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
- Wilmington, Michael (January 5, 2003). "Polanski's `Pianist' may put `profligate dwarf' in better light". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
- Schickel, Richard (December 15, 2002). "Have a Very Leo Noel". Time. p. 4. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
- 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.
- Scott, A.O. (December 27, 2002). "Surviving the Warsaw Ghetto Against Steep Odds". The New York Times. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
- "StudioCanal Collection". Retrieved 24 June 2010.
- "Problems with initial BD release". Retrieved 1 August 2010.
- "The Pianist on BD". Retrieved 1 August 2010.
- The Pianist at the Internet Movie Database
- The Pianist at Box Office Mojo
- The Pianist at Rotten Tomatoes
- The Pianist at Metacritic
- Wladyslaw Szpilman's personal Website: The Pianist - The book
- Szpilman's Warsaw: The History behind The Pianist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
- The Pianist at culture.pl
|Goya Award for Best European Film
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