Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Pianist

I meant to mention that I watched The Pianist on DVD the other night. What a `grim piece, and how draining it was to watch.
It concerns a Jewish family in Poland who, along with thousands of other Jews are rounded up and sent off to the death camps. The pianist only escapes because he is hauled out of the crowd by a soldier who has become a policeman in order to escape death himself. After that he is on the run, gets caught up in a gang of Jewish prisoners who are made to build for the Germans, escapes again and is helped by an artistic couple, and finally is left to his own devices when his helpers are arrested, or vanish. In his last desperate days he is briefly befriended by a German officer, who, in return for hearing him play (on a grand piano that happens very conveniently to be in the house the pianist has hidden in) brings him some food, and stops him from being discovered by the other officers.
The film is full of brutal moments, sudden and unexpected deaths, dreadful beatings, utter cruelty on behalf of the Germans, corpses and the awfulness of starvation. At times it’s barely watchable. It’s beautifully photographed (by Pawel Edelman), and superbly directed. The cast, a real mix of nationalities, is uniformly good. Adrien Brophy may play on his skinny face a little too much, but he conveys well the despair of an artist, a man who would much sooner get on an play the piano than anything else.
It seems an odd choice for Roman Polanski to direct, though his own background is reflected in some of the events in the movie. I can’t say it’s a movie I’d like to see again: it’s too long, and in that curious way that audiences have of losing empathy with screen characters, we get a little tired of the lengthy stretch of time after Brody is forced to live on his own.
One curious thing about the movie is why an actor, Thomas Kretschmann, who doesn’t appear until something like the last quarter an hour of a 150 minute movie, gets second billing.

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