The Pianist

Blaine Kyllo

The Pianist (TVA/Lions Gate), the Roman Polanski film that took Oscars for directing, acting (Adrien Brody) and adapted screenplay (Ronald Harwood) in 23, is one of Polanski’s finest films. It is the true story of how Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Jewish man, survived the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. Essentially the film is about the power of music and the strength of the soul, and it shows that life during that war was much more complex than the black-and-white narratives that we have grown used to. Polanski’s own story is parallel to Szpilman’s: he escaped the Krakow ghetto at the start of the Second World War (although he escaped into the countryside, while Szpilman hid in Warsaw). But Polanski has been adamant in interviews that he would never have filmed his own story, and has been surprised that interviewers don’t seem to understand why: “If I made a film about them, the film would superimpose itself over the real thing, and they would not exist any more,” he said to Premiere. “What one can remember is important. You remember the last chapter of The Wild Palms, by Faulkner? Look it up, what the guy says about remembering.” The DVD is beautifully presented in a three-disc set, with the film on one disc, special features on another and the soundtrack (Sony) on a third. The soundtrack features the Polish pianist Janusz Olejniczak performing mostly works by Chopin (“For us Poles, Chopin symbolizes revolution,” Polanski writes on the cover), and a 1948 recording of Szpilman performing a selection from Chopin’s “Mazurka in A Minor.” The special features disc has far too much text-based material (although it is well presented and easily navigated), including a short interview with Polanski, historical background on the Warsaw ghetto and a photo gallery showing and telling how the intricate set was built. Also included are TV and film clips, documentary footage and interviews. Polanski’s talk is particularly fascinating, and reveals that while The Pianist is not his autobiography, it is what he saw and experienced and survived.

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