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Last Updated:  Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 12:17 GMT
Polanski strikes right chord
by Norman Miller
BBC News Online

Roman Polanski's film The Pianist has won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, six Cesars and best film Bafta, and has proved to be a hit with critics around the world.

When Warsaw falls to the Germans during the early days of World War Two, the brilliant classical pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody) and his Jewish family choose to remain, hoping somehow for some sort of bearable outcome.

But as the full horror of Nazi rule begins to reveal itself, he finds himself facing a desperate battle to survive.

Polanski's film brilliantly conveys the sense of life on a knife edge, most powerfully through a string of horrifying summary executions rather than immediate threats to Szpilman's life.

Adrien Brody was in Ken Loach's Bread and Roses
Brody exerts a little too much control
But as conditions worsen he finds himself more and more at the mercy of a handful of sympathisers, profiteers and fate as he tries to conceal his presence.

As his position becomes ever more tenuous, the tiniest of actions begin to assume magnified importance until a moment of stupidity sends him fleeing for his life into what is left of the ghetto after the bloody, futile Jewish uprising of 1943.

Then, as the Russians approach the city with the promise of freedom, another moment of carelessness leads to his discovery by a German officer (Thomas Kretschmann), putting his life once more in a nerve-wracking balance.

Based on a true story, Polanski's film naturally carries echoes of other Holocaust films such as Schindler's List, particularly in its motif of humanity at work in a world of utter dehumanisation.

Polanski - a survivor of the wartime Krakow ghetto - directs with a master's touch, capturing the mood of a city racked by terror, hatred and fear.

Adrien Brody (left) and Roman Polanski on set
Polanski's mother died in the a concentration camp
He plays the tension particularly well in a nerve-shredding scene when Brody decides to reveal himself to the Russian liberators.

Brody, however, at times opts for perhaps a little too much control - or numbness - in a performance that seems more professional than inspiring, shining precisely at those moments when he reveals rawer feelings.

So while the film is a powerful portrait of one man in Warsaw under the Nazis - a city captured perfectly in Pawel Edelman's muted cinematography - it does not convey enough of the period's mix of terror, evil, pity and compassion.

In this respect, it could learn from Jan Hrebejk's Divided We Fall, which handled a similar theme - a Czech Jew in hiding from the Nazis - with greater breadth and power.

But whatever its flaws, The Pianist is, as you would expect from a European master like Polanski, a memorable and worthy effort.





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