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 Monday, 27 January, 2003, 11:40 GMT
The Pianist
Adrien Brody
Newsnight Review discussed Roman Polanski's film The Pianist.

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

He gives us a film which is utterly compelling. Pretty devastating actually. But, for me, the misfortune was that I have read the book. The book is unbearable. It was written in 1946. It is unredeemed in any way. There's not the sentimental redemption. I was surprised that Polanski would fall for the sentimental redemption of music as he does in this way. It is an utterly true record, in the sense of the horrors of the Holocaust, but what it isn't true to is that Szpilman maintains in his book that he was unchanged by the experience. What is so devastating is that nothing happens to him or anything else. Whereas the Chopin in this movie washes over us and convinces us absolutely that something has happened for the better. Nothing has happened for the better.

Luckily, for me, I didn't know anything about it. I knew it was vaguely to do with the Holocaust, so I didn't know whether he was going to survive. I do agree with Lisa about the idea of the transcendence of art doesn't carry much weight. It seems tacked on. Though you need it as an audience, it's the first time in an audience I have seen everybody sitting through the credits because the music is still playing. You do need it, but it seems inauthentic. Everything about the rest of the movie seems incredibly authentic. Especially the casual violence in the first half. Most movies with Nazis, there's something dramatic and demonic about the violence. Here there is a disabled man tipped out of an upstairs window. Stuff like that. They are just done for light relief from the Nazis' point of view. That's incredibly well done. Then the second half is very different in tone. It's like a fugitive movie, but it's very exciting and slightly farcical and interesting, I think.

I do think it's a wonderful film. It gripped me all the way through. It just had the smack of truth, and there was none of the sentimentality that I felt was in Schindler's List, for instance. But it is odd to see a protagonist who is so utterly passive, in some ways. Perhaps that's intentional. He managed to carry that off, but he is so utterly unheroic, actually, and is nothing but a victim of circumstance. I did think there were a few problems with Adrien Brody's performance. He was very good at looking hunted all the time, and very melancholic. One thing I didn't get out of it and one thing I can't believe is absent through the whole experience, is the sense of fear.

There was a great sense within the family. I agree with you about him but Frank Finlay and Maureen Lipman were a great cast.

Lipman was sensational.

I loved the passivity of them which you feel as a viewer, in having to watch these acts of violence taking place out of their window, and they have to stay quiet.

If you think about Polanski's life, that he lost his parents in the camps. He then had his wife murdered by Charles Manson. He has been exiled twice from different countries. It's about how random everything is. That it's just luck that in the end the man survived.

If you had seen him as a hero, you would have accused all the others of not being heroic and therefore perishing, and it wouldn't have worked.

The Jews are in a sense being accused of being complicit in their destruction because of their passivity. This movie is about the fact there is no other act other than passivity in those circumstances. Yes, there is the uprising eventually, but the terrible decline of the family, I have never seen Maureen Lipman act so well, the obediently getting on to the cattle train. The woman who has been so assertive at the beginning of the film. He wants to get the randomness but also the passivity is what rules.

Casual brutality but it was the casual goodness that makes you weep. These people who were doing the right thing, under terror of their own deaths but being quite casual about it, I thought was very powerful?

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24 Jan 03 | Entertainment
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