Comfortable and Furious

THE PIANIST

Directed by Roman Polanski

Written by Robert Harwood from a book by Wladyslaw Szpilman

Staring:
Adrien Brody, Emilia Fox, Ed Stoppard and Michal Sebrowski


Erich Sez…

Well, there are three basic parts to this movie. Yeah, I know, most
stories have three parts – it isn’t much of an insight. But the three
parts of The Pianist
are so different that I feel as though I’ve seen three different films.
First is the Jewish family in Nazi territory wondering when this
madness will stop so things can get back to normal, while we watch,
knowing that they will be annihilated. I’ve encountered versions of
this story more times than I care to count, ever since they made us
read The Diary of Anne Frank in middle school. All WWII stories
in this vein seem to have a scene where people pay a lot of money for
piece of chocolate. This part of the film was typically stagy and more
than a little stale. Maybe the falseness of the first part of the film
is deliberate.

The film takes off during the second part. The Nazis reveal
the full extent of their brutality by committing one atrocity after
another, laughing all the way. We’ve seen films about the horrors of
Nazism before, but the total collapse of humanity has never been more
vividly depicted. I like the fact that the murders are blunt – neither sanitized nor
overly dramatized. Nazism in action is simply presented to the
audience. Here is an old man being thrown off a balcony. Here is a
family being gunned down. Szpilman is the protagonist, but serves
mostly as a witness to relay the events depicted. It is not the case,
however, that this portion of the film lacks style. It is during this,
second part that you really know you’re watching Polanski at work.
Several shots have Polanski’s creepy, grotesque aura that so well
accompanies stories about the dark side of humanity. It’s the same
combination of style and texture with dark subject matter that makes
Polanski’s Macbeth so good.

 

While I’m being artsy fartsy, I’ll mention that I kept thinking of
these paintings by Matthias Grunewald during the film, not just because
the film and paintings both expose humans as brutal apes, but also
because there seems to be a visual resemblance. When you see The Pianist,
remember these faces when you look at the faces of the German soldiers.
Remember the composition when the Jews are being crammed onto trains.
These are among my favorite paintings so, surprise, surprise, I loved
the middle part of the film.

The third part of the film comes
as the Nazis are treated to a healthy portion of whoop-ass, courtesy of
the Red Army. This part of the film focuses more on what Szpilman has
become rather than what he sees. Once a celebrated artist, he is now
little more than a critter, poking his head out to snatch food, but
mostly hiding among ruins. Although it didn’t remind me of any
paintings, his part of the film is pretty good too, bringing home
Szpilman’s extraordinary amount of luck and offering an interesting
look at an old question: why do we push forward for survival when the
odds are impossible, we are miserable in every possible way and only
expect greater misery? When you see shots of Brody standing before a
field of destroyed buildings as he scrounges for food and narrowly
escapes being burned to death – this is after narrowly escaping being
beaten to death, starving to death, dying of fever, being gassed, being
shot, dying of thirst and being blown up, you gotta ask, why he doesn’t
he give up? More importantly, why would most of us persist in the same
situation? Isn’t it better, as one character says earlier in the film,
just to get it over with quickly? Does our instinct for survival simply
override reason?

We see some characters jumping to their deaths to avoid immolation –
but only when that choice is totally inescapable. When the choice is
between a 99.99% chance of a few months of total suffering on every
level culminating in a horrible death, and taking the easy way out with
a quick death, we tend to take the gamble, for some reason.


Regular Ratings

  • Film Overall: 7.5
  • Story: 6
  • Acting: 7
  • Direction: 8.5

Ruthless Ratings

  • Number of large eggs that could fit in one of Adrian Brody’s nostrils: 1
  • Days after seeing the film that you discovered that Polanski was a Holocaust survivor:1
  • Number of times you were embarrassed about not knowing that: 4
  • Number of times the fact that Polanski survived one of the
    great horrors of human history, losing his mother to the gas chambers,
    made you think of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
    in which Larry confuses lotto numbers scrawled on an employees arm for
    a concentration camp tattoo and you laughed, then felt a little guilty:
    1
  • Number of times you found the story implausible even though it’s supposed to be true: 5
  • Number of times you then thought to yourself, “why, the odds of all that happening are like one in 6 million —– oh”: 1
  • Number of times you though about starting an organization
    called The German American Defense League that would insist Hollywood
    only make films about German people like Beethoven and Kant (but not
    Heidegger): 9
  • Number of times you almost wished the Nazis were still around so you could shoot some: 2

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