View Full Version : The Pianist

02-23-2003, 04:33 PM
Perhaps because he generally works in a direct, naturalistic style and in a variety of genres, Roman Polanski could quite possibly be the most underrated filmmaker working today—which makes a film like “The Pianist” all the more startling. It’s unexpected filmmaking, a complex yet measured account of Jewish life in wartime Warsaw, both in the ghetto and outside of it, filmed, as always, in Polanski’s clean, simple style with beautiful camerawork (by Pawel Edelman) and evocative lighting. Though it may appear cold and methodical, Polanski’s passion is subversively striking. Based on pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir (unread by this reviewer) and adapted in an admirably economical fashion by Ronald Harwood, his story probably serves as a counterpoint to Polanski’s own: the end titles reveal Szpilman remained in Poland until his death in 2000 whereas Polanski has essentially exiled himself from his native land and there’s a sense of wistfulness in his recreation of the time; Warsaw is displayed as a peaceful urban center disrupted only by the advent of Nazism and, with one notable exception, the Poles are depicted as concerned citizens given to either helping or at least ignoring the Jews. Although it’s as brutal to watch as “Schindler’s List” (there are some short images that are truly troubling) the comparisons are not quite apt: whereas “Schindler’s List” concerned itself with the Holocaust as a topic in and of itself, “The Pianist” seems intrigued not only with that subject but also with art’s critical importance in a crisis society: not only is it a savior in troubled times but it’s the bridge that bonds victim and barbarian; Polanski seems intent on providing a no-fuss definition of art that can have meaning to any audience. Adrien Brody plays the title role, subtly moving from cocksure artist to emaciated blank canvas for the director to project his fears and wonders. Absolutely outstanding, the work of a true cinematic genius.

03-22-2003, 11:46 AM
I don't think Polanski is underrated. I think he's ignored.

The film world hates to admit that such a cocky, selfish "artiste" is so good. They REFUSE to acknowledge that he is a master filmmaker. It's like when Kirk Douglas called Kubrick a "talented shit". Hollywood establishment is so arrogantly caught up in it's own mediocrity that it repeatedly turns a blind eye to the bonafide best in film.

oscar jubis
03-22-2003, 06:56 PM
Polanski released at least six masterpieces between '62 and '79. Repulsion and Chinatown are my favorites but others may reasonably prefer Rosemary's Baby or Tess or Knife in the Water...
Then in the 23 years precending The Pianist his ouvre comprises: Frantic, Pirates, Death and the Maiden, 9th Gate and Moon. Evidence that indicates he indeed forcibly raped a 13 year old did not figure into my judgement. Polanski deserved to be ignored based on the film evidence.

03-23-2003, 11:27 AM
I'll admit "Frantic" was sub-par but I think "Bitter Moon" was one of the boldest films, not only in terms of content but in its attutude (in essence, Polanski is saying "Fuck you" to detractors of both his films and personal morals), that I can recall. He really doesn't care what we think of him. While this doesn't excuse his conduct (he should be prosecuted if he's guilty, no question), it keeps our holier-than-thou attitudes in check.

To paraphrase Dave Kehr on Stanley Kubrick when I think either "The Shining" or "Full Metal Jacket" came out: "It's his world and he's welcome to it."

03-23-2003, 11:37 AM

I reread your comments and realize you were basing your thoughts on his fim ouvre. Rather than amend my prevoius reply, let me just add that those masterpieces you referenced (and I think "Bitter Moon" is a good film, not a masterpiece) are enough.

The fact that "The Pianist" comes so late in his career suggests he's not been fully engaged by the post-"Tess" material he's chosen to work with. Until "The Pianist" (and with the exception of "Bitter Moon") I think he's approached filmmaking with diffidence and that certainly seems a choice, not a reversal in talent. It may have been that the disasterous response to the pirate movie he made with Walter Matthau had something to do with it. (I have to check to see if it's available on DVD; it may be worth checking out.)

oscar jubis
03-23-2003, 11:42 PM
Bix171, your last post makes a lot of sense. Bitter Moon is indeed Polanski's most interesting and personal film post-"Tess". A good, emotionally complex movie.

I think personal morals is an oxymoron and a "fuck you" attitude is old school.

Pirates is a film I recommend solely to fans of camp and Polanski completists. It is not out on dvd but the vhs is still easy to find. The only Polanski I missed was Cul de Sac. It's only available in the UK.

I think Mr. Polanski deserved the director Oscar for Pianist. Congrats.

04-02-2003, 08:10 PM
Cul de Sac is also available in canada, oscar. It's excellent-try to track it down. I didn't know what to make of "Pirates"- not a big Matthau fan- but that ship was impressive!

Bitter Moon is probably my fave guilty pleasure film. It's one of the reasons I want to go to Paris this year. I liken it to "Last Tango". I hear Romek goes to the La Coupole for dinner every week. I'll try to spot him, but he probably doesn't dine with the public.