The Pianist (DVD) Review

by : Britt Gillette

Winner of three Academy Awards, and nominated for four others including Best Picture, The Pianist is one of the best films of the decade. Directed by Roman Polanski, The Pianist is a cinematic and artistic masterpiece similar to The Red Violin in that it was mostly overlooked until the Academy offered the necessary publicity to make it a commercial success on video and DVD. Set against the backdrop of an amazingly beautiful soundtrack featuring such classical composers as Chopin and Beethoven, The Pianist ingeniously illustrates the struggle of one man to maintain his dignity and his connection with civilization in the face of a personal hell on earth and some of greatest crimes in human history…

Actor Adrien Brody turns in a brilliant performance as Wladyslaw Szpilman, a piano player of immense genius in 1930s Poland. Szpilman and his family enjoy a life of relative wealth and comfort as part of the cultured and educated European social elite. But that life is turned upside down on September 1, 1939, when the imperial forces of Adolph Hitler's Nazi Germany invade Poland. As a Jew, Szpilman and his family are considered sub-human in the eyes of the German government, and a campaign of terror is quickly instituted against the Jewish population of Warsaw.

Szpilman must live his life the best he can while Warsaw is fenced in with brick walls, and its Jewish citizens are singled out and driven through checkpoints like cattle. At first, the residents of the Warsaw ghetto believe they can wait out the tragedy unfolding before them, but before long, men are assaulting old ladies for meager allotments of food, and citizens are risking death to escape the horrors of the ghetto. Szpilman survives for a while as a restaurant piano player, but he's soon forced into hiding as the ghetto is cleared and the Jews are sent off to concentration camps.

When Szpilman's family is shipped off by train to a death camp, he manages to escape and survive for a time in the abandoned ghetto. But it doesn't take long for the Nazis to find him and force him to work in a German labor camp. Escaping captivity, Szpilman survives in the attic of an abandoned bombed-out building in the Warsaw ghetto. While there, he befriends a German officer who shares his love of music and brings him food rations on a regular basis. As the war comes to a conclusion, the fate of both men remains in the air as the evils of the Nazi regime are displaced by the iron fist of Soviet expansion…

Based on the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, one the most accomplished piano players in all of Europe prior to the advance of the Nazi regime, The Pianist is a masterpiece on the big screen. The wondrous music and its compelling beauty stand in stark contrast to the horrors of war. Brody is more than deserving of his Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and Ronald Harwood's screenplay is simply masterful. The precision with which this film tells its story, coupled with its intimate portrayal of the human condition, makes The Pianist one of the greatest films of all time and a definite must-see for anyone who harbors a love of artistry and cinema.