I wish I knew this was an autobiographical war film before it began so I did not watch it with this unsettling discomfort thinking that Adrien Brody’s character, Wladyslaw Szpilman, was going to die at any moment. Plus this movie is over two hours, so you can imagine the unnecessary anxiety! That being said, Roman Polanski directed a near perfect film.
Based of Szpilman’s life as a Polish Jewish pianist during the Second World War, the film does not make him a hero nor does it Hollywoodize his experience. Brody’s character is merely doing everything he can to survive and knows that without some chance and lucky encounters with helpful non-Jews, he would have easily been dead. There is nothing overly special about him and Brody successfully portrays him as the everyday man. What I like is that the film does not dwell on any particular moment, whether it is a death or the fact that Szpilman never sees his family again once separated from them. There are so many horrific murders in this film, the realism comes from not lingering over the deaths for more than a few seconds. There are two scenes that stick out prominently in my mind that purely demonstrated the inhumane and irrational methods of killing Jewish people. First, when a group of German officers raid the ghetto and demand that everyone stand up in the apartment, a man in a wheel chair stays seated for obvious reasons. However, they do not accept this and lift up his chair to throw him over the balcony. Meanwhile, Szpilman (Brody) and his family are watching the event unfold in from of their eyes across the street from their apartment window. I had to turn away once I saw them carrying the crippled man to the window. Second, there is a scene where a group of Jews are told to lay face down on the cement in a line and an officer casually walks down the line shooting each of them in the back of the head. When he reaches the last man, he has run out of bullets, thus pauses to reload and you have to sit and wait with the man face down for him to die. It is eerie but serves to show cruel reality of the situation.
Most people probably remember the Academy Awards in 2003 when Adrian Brody won for best actor and locked lips with Halle Berry in celebration. It was a memorable acceptance for an astonishing performance. Also, Polanski won the award for best director, however he did not show up to accept his statue from presenter Harrison Ford, due to the fact that he was/is considered a fugitive (I do not care for the accusations). So Ford gave his friend the prize six months later at an event in France. Either way, Polanski deserved this award and the praise that came with it.