Take a Drink: for each new restriction
Take a Drink: for Nazi “jokes”
Take a Drink: for each piano piece
Take a Drink: whenever Wladyslaw’s brother bitches about something
Take a Drink: for each new hiding place
Take a Drink: for terrible solitude
Do a Shot: whenever you need it
By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
I recently saw some D-movie producer boasting about how he has an Oscar-winning talent signed onto his latest schlockfest and I immediately thought, “must be Cuba Gooding, Jr. or Adrien Brody.” That’s just sad. Let’s look at Brody’s recent resume. Predators? Okay. Third Person? Eh. High School? Umm… The Experiment? Ah, I guess I should add Forrest Whitaker to that list. An InAPPropriate Comedy?
Yep, the movie that makes Movie 43 look like fuckin’ Airplane
He’s got that Oscar, though, and The Pianist is the move he won it for. I might have broken him, though. He stars as Wladyslaw Spillman, a Jewish concert pianist from Warsaw at the onset of World War II. The film is a slow, brutal slog through the next five years of his life, as he loses everything dear to him and scrabbles to avoid Nazis and survive the war any way he can.
Director Roman Polanski has had a life uncommonly full of tragedy and horror (self-made or no), so much so that many people don’t know how this extended to even his childhood. I certainly didn’t when I saw his name in a Krakow Ghetto exhibit in Schindler’s factory, but a bit of research showed that this was indeed him. He saw the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto firsthand, narrowly escaping getting taken to a concentration camp with his parents and roaming the Polish countryside for the duration of the war. His mother was not so lucky, perishing at Auschwitz. He was six years old when she was taken.
He passed on Schindler’s List because he felt it was too personal a project for him, but a decade later he was prepared to address the Holocaust, and did so in devastatingly authentic fashion with The Pianist. The film is a technical marvel, disturbingly, intensely realistic in every small detail, a product of its adherence to Spillman’s memoirs and Polanski’s own experiences. Polanski finds a terrible beauty in his expertly constructed tableaus of death, destruction, emptiness. The battle scenes feel both voyeuristic and immersive, strictly from Spillman’s perspective yet never less than entirely believable.
I’ll leave this here.
Acting-wise, the cast is across the board solid, but this is Brody’s film. He really learned the piano for the role, and I shudder to think of where else his typical method acting preparation took him. He’s a reserved, dignified young man in the beginning, and only becomes less expensive as his circumstances became more horrifying, run-down, world-weary, and later broken, almost animalistic as he runs on what seems like pure instinct. It’s an infinitely sad portrayal, one for which you can’t help but wonder if it reflects Polanski’s own survivor’s guilt. Certainly, survival is horror for the pianist, and no tale of bravely overcoming the odds, but rather of blind luck. There’s plenty in this film that will make you rage and despair, but that’s arguably exactly as it should be. The scene where a Nazi executes a line of Jewish men one by one, pausing to reload for the last, feels like a conscious rebuttal to Schindler’s List. There’s no miraculous gun-jamming here. Just Death.
The problem is, however understandable it may be, Polanski deliberately keeps the material, and the audience, at arm’s length. It’s not just the battles that feel observational, voyeuristic, but the entire film, and it’s difficult to make an emotional connection with the film, and Spillman in particular. It perhaps runs counter to the deeply depressing point Polanski’s trying to make, but at some level it feels more like avoidance than an artistic decision.
The script is also brutally linear and yet staccato in its timeline, a series of unfortunate events without time to pause for character development at first, then a slow grind for survival that still keeps that development to a minimum. It doesn’t feel like an arc or a story so much as a terribly depressing diary.
You ain’t shit, Lemony Snicket.
The Pianist is perhaps the most depressing Holocaust drama ever made, and it doesn’t even go into the camps. Instead, it presides over those terrible times like a pitiless God, without any of the even temporary respite and joy that a more personal depiction could have provided. You should watch it, but you won’t enjoy it.