Saturday, March 01, 2003

The Pianist (IMDB) (Netflix)
The true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody) and his epic struggle inside the World War II's Warsaw ghetto. It was genocide in slow motion, taking years to complete, and we experience it all through Szpilman's story, told by Roman Polanski, director of Rosemary's Baby and Chinatown. It's nominated for seven Oscars, including best picture, best actor for Brody and best director for Polanski (although you won't see him at the Academy Awards show, at least not without handcuffs, after fleeing a California statutory rape charge that has kept him out of the U.S. since 1977).

This is exactly the kind of story that the Academy voters love: historical, tragic, featuring the best and worst of the human spirit. There almost should be a special category, just to be fair to the other genres. It's beautifully shot in a way that doesn't call attention itself, and the performances are uniformly restrained, refreshingly free of the pathos you would expect given the situation. That choice of tone, however, means that there is little more than a nodding glance at Szpilman's inner conflict as he makes the choices that determine his fate, taking the film a notch down from perfection. For lovers of Schindler's List (surprisingly, not available on DVD)and Life is Beautiful.