Piano Movies

The Pianist - A Roman Polanski Film

Official Home Page: http://www.szpilman.net/

Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a famous Polish Jewish pianist working for Warsaw Radio, sees his whole world collapse with the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. After the radio station is rocked by explosions from German bombing, Szpilman goes home and learns that Great Britain and France have declared war on Nazi Germany. He and his family rejoice, believing the war will end quickly.,

When the Nazis' armed SS organization occupies Warsaw after the Wehrmacht passes on, living conditions for the Jewish population gradually deteriorate as their rights are slowly eroded: first they are allowed only a limited amount of money per family, then they must wear armbands imprinted with the blue Star of David to identify themselves, and eventually, late in 1940, they are all forced into the squalid Warsaw Ghetto. There, they face hunger, persecution and humiliation from the SS and the ever-present fear of death or torture and suffering starvation (this is shown in one scene when a old man tries to steal food from and old woman who manages to drop it on the street and begins to eat it, causing the woman to sob sadly). The Nazis became increasingly sadistic and the family witnesses many horrors inflicted on other Jews. In one scene, an NCO, likely Nazi war criminal Josef Blosche, leads a group of Einsatzgruppen who go into the apartment across from the Szpilmans. They order the family on the top floor to stand up for them, then when an elderly man in a wheelchair is unable to stand up, the NCO orders the other SS men to throw the man off the balcony. The rest of the family are then taken out into the street and shot, and the SS drive off, running over the bodies along the way.

Before long, the family, along with thousands of others, are rounded up for deportation by train to the extermination facility at Treblinka. As the Jews are being forced onto cattle cars, Szpilman is saved at the last moment by one of the Jewish Ghetto Police, who happens to be a family friend. Separated from his family and loved ones, Szpilman manages to survive. At first he is pressed into a German reconstruction unit inside the ghetto as a slave labourer. During this period, another Jewish labourer confides to Szpilman two critical pieces of information: one, that many Jews who still survive know of the German plans to exterminate them, and two, that a Jewish uprising against the Germans is being actively prepared for. Szpilman volunteers his help for the plan. He is enlisted to help smuggle weapons into the ghetto, almost being caught at one point.

Later, before the uprising starts, Szpilman decides to go into hiding outside the ghetto, relying on the help of non-Jews who still remember him such as ex-coworker of his from the radio station. While living in hiding, he witnesses many horrors committed by the SS, such as widespread killing, beating and burning of Jews and others (the burning is mostly shown during the two Warsaw uprisings). In 1943, Szpilman also finally witnesses the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising he helped to bring about, and its aftermath as the SS forcibly enters the ghetto and kill nearly all the remaining insurgents. A year goes by and life in Warsaw further deteriorates. Szpilman is forced to flee his first hiding place after a neighbour detects his presence and threatens to inform on him. In his second hiding place, near a German military hospital, Szpilman nearly dies due to jaundice and malnutrition.

In August 1944, the Polish resistance mounts the Warsaw Uprising against the German occupation. Warsaw is virtually razed and depopulated as a result. After the surviving Warsaw population is deported from the city ruins and the escape of German SS from the approaching Soviet Army, Szpilman is left entirely alone. In buildings still standing, he searches desperately for food. While trying to open a can of Polish pickles, Szpilman is discovered by a captain of the regular German Army, Wilm Hosenfeld (Kretschmann). Upon questioning Szpilman and discovering that he is a pianist, Hosenfeld asks Szpilman to play something for him on the grand piano that happens to be in the building. The decrepit Szpilman, only a shadow of the flamboyant pianist he once was, plays an abbreviated version of Chopin's Ballade in G minor.

Hosenfeld lets Szpilman continue hiding in the attic of the building and even brings him food regularly, thus saving his life. Another few weeks go by, and the German troops are forced to withdraw from Warsaw due to the advance of the Red Army troops. Before leaving the area, Hosenfeld asks Szpilman what his name is, and, upon hearing it, remarks that it is apt for a pianist (Szpilman is a homonym for the German Spielmann, meaning "man who plays"). Hosenfeld also promises to listen for Szpilman on Polish Radio. He gives Szpilman his Wehrmacht uniform greatcoat and leaves. Later, that coat nearly proves almost fatal for Szpilman when Polish troops, liberating the ruins of Warsaw, mistake him for a German officer and shoot at him. He is eventually able to convince them that he is Polish, and they stop shooting.

As newly-freed prisoners of a concentration camp walk home, they pass a fenced-in enclosure of German prisoners of war, guarded by Soviet soldiers. A German prisoner, who turns out to be Hosenfeld, calls out to the passing ex-prisoners. Hosenfeld begs one of them, a violinist of Szpilman's acquaintance, to contact Szpilman to free him. Szpilman, who has gone back to playing live on Warsaw Radio, arrives at the site too late; all the prisoners have been removed along with any trace of the stockade. In the film's final scene, Szpilman triumphantly performs Chopin's Grand Polonaise brillante in E flat major to a large audience in Warsaw. Title cards shown just before the end credits reveal that Szpilman continued to live in Warsaw and died in 2000, but that Hosenfeld died in 1952 in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp.

Cast

  • Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman
  • Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld
  • Frank Finlay as Father Szpilman
  • Maureen Lipman as Mother Szpilman
  • Emilia Fox as Dorota
  • Ed Stoppard as Henryk
  • David Singer as Hansell
  • Julia Rayner as Regina
  • Jessica Kate Meyer as Halina
  • Michał Żebrowski as Jurek
  • Richard Ridings as Mr. Lipa
  • Daniel Caltagirone as Majorek
  • Valentine Pelka as Dorota's husband

Production

The story had deep connections with director Roman Polanski because he escaped from the Krakow Ghetto as a child after the death of his mother. He ended up living in a Polish farmer's barn until the war's end. His father almost died in the camps, but they reunited after the end of World War II.

Joseph Fiennes was Polanski's first choice for the main role, but he turned it down due to a previous commitment to the theatre. Over 1,400 actors auditioned for the role of Wladyslaw Szpilman at a casting call in London. Unsatisfied with all who tried, director Roman Polanski sought to cast Adrien Brody, whom he saw as ideal for the role during their first meeting in Paris.

Principal photography on The Pianist began on 9 February 2001 in Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam, Germany. The Warsaw Ghetto and the surrounding city were recreated on the backlot of Babelsberg Studios as they would have looked during the war. Old Soviet army barracks were used to create the ruined city, as they were going to be destroyed anyway.

The first scenes of the film were shot at the old army barracks. Soon after, the filmmakers moved to a villa in Potsdam, which served as the house where Szpilman meets Hosenfeld. On 2 March 2001, filming then moved to an abandoned Soviet army hospital in Beelitz, Germany. The scenes that featured the Germans destroying the hospital with flame throwers were filmed here. On 15 March filming finally moved to Babelsberg Studios. The first scene shot at the studio was the scene Szpilman witnesses a resistance mounted by the Jews from the Ghetto, which is eventually ended by the Nazis. The scene was complex and technically demanding as it involved various stunts and explosives. Filming at the studios ended on 26 March and moved to Warsaw on 29 March. The rundown district of Praga was chosen for filming because of its abundance of original buildings. The art department built onto these original buildings, re-creating World War II–era Poland with signs and posters from the period. Additional filming also took place around Warsaw. The Umschlagplatz scene where Szpilman, his family and hundreds of other Jews wait to be taken to the concentration camps was filmed at the National Defence University in Warsaw.

Principal photography ended in July 2001, and was followed by months of post-production, which took place in Paris, France.

Music

Further information: The Pianist (soundtrack)

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