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The Pianist (2002 film)

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Subject: 2003 Polish Film Awards, 75th Academy Awards, 56th British Academy Film Awards, Roman Polanski, 2002 in film
Collection: 2000S Biographical Films, 2000S Drama Films, 2000S War Films, 2002 Films, Babelsberg Studio Films, Best Film Bafta Award Winners, Best Film César Award Winners, British Biographical Films, British Films, British War Drama Films, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Wojciech Kilar, Films About Classical Music and Musicians, Films About Jews and Judaism, Films About Pianos and Pianists, Films Based on Biographies, Films Directed by Roman Polanski, Films Featuring a Best Actor Academy Award Winning Performance, Films Featuring a Best Actor César Award Winning Performance, Films Produced by Alain Sarde, Films Set in Poland, Films Set in the 1930S, Films Set in the 1940S, Films Set in Warsaw, Films Shot in Poland, Films Whose Director Won the Best Direction Bafta Award, Films Whose Director Won the Best Director Academy Award, Films Whose Writer Won the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award, Focus Features Films, French Biographical Films, French Drama Films, French Films, French War Films, French-Language Films, German Biographical Films, German Drama Films, German Films, German War Films, German-Language Films, Holocaust Films, Jewish Polish History, Musical Films Based on Actual Events, Palme D'or Winners, Polish Biographical Films, Polish Drama Films, Polish Films, Polish War Films, Polish-Language Films, Russian-Language Films, Studiocanal Films, Turkish-Language Films, Universal Pictures Films, War Drama Films, Władysław Szpilman, World War II Films Based on Actual Events
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The Pianist (2002 film)

The Pianist
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roman Polanski
Produced by
Screenplay by Ronald Harwood
Based on The Pianist 
by Władysław Szpilman
Music by Wojciech Kilar
Cinematography Paweł Edelman
Edited by Hervé de Luze
Distributed by Focus Features
Release dates
  • 24 May 2002 (2002-05-24) (Cannes)
  • 6 September 2002 (2002-09-06) (Poland)
  • 6 March 2003 (2003-03-06) (UK)
Running time
150 minutes[1]
  • France
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • Polish
  • German
  • Russian
  • French
  • Turkish
Budget $35 million[2]
Box office $120.1 million[3]

The Pianist is a 2002 historical drama film co-produced and directed by Roman Polanski, scripted by Ronald Harwood, and starring Adrien Brody.[4] It is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist, a World War II memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist and composer Władysław Szpilman. The film was a co-production between France, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Poland.

The Pianist met with significant critical praise and received multiple awards and nominations. It was awarded the Palme d'Or at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival.[5] At the 75th Academy Awards, The Pianist won Oscars for Best Director (Polanski), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ronald Harwood), and Best Actor (Brody), and was also nominated for four other awards, including the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and BAFTA Award for Best Direction in 2003 and seven French Césars including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Brody.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Reception 4
  • Home release 5
  • Music 6
  • Accolades 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


In September 1939, Władysław Szpilman (Adrien Brody), a Polish-Jewish pianist, is playing live on the radio in Warsaw when the station is bombed during Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland which caused the outbreak of World War II. Hoping for a quick victory, Szpilman celebrates with his posh family at home when learning that Britain and France have declared war on Germany. German troops soon enter Warsaw and the Nazi authorities implement measures to identify, isolate, financially ruin and reduce the Jewish population in Warsaw. Jews are ordered to provide their own identifying armbands with the Star of David.

Photograph of Władysław Szpilman

By November 1940, the Szpilman family and the 360,000 other Warsaw Jews are removed to the newly established Warsaw Ghetto. Conditions make life difficult with overcrowding, starvation, loss of social structure, and disrespect by the military guards. An emaciated dead adult can be seen on the street being comforted by a child and an elderly woman is assaulted over and robbed of the contents of her soup canteen. The Szpilmans witness from across the street of their housing the SS kill the inhabitants of another apartment during a round-up.

On 16 August 1942, the family are to be deported to Treblinka extermination camp, but a friend in the Jewish Ghetto Police intervenes to remove Władysław from the group being transported. Władysław becomes a slave labourer, learns about a coming Jewish revolt and takes part in the smuggling of weapons into the ghetto; almost being found out by a suspicious guard. He arranges an escape to then hide in the city with help from a non-Jewish friend, Andrzej Bogucki (Ronan Vibert), and his wife Janina (Ruth Platt).

In April 1943, Władysław can see from a window of his hiding place the effects of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Attempting to leave the hiding place for assistance, a neighbor questions his being in the building. Władysław flees and is again assisted with a new hiding place with a piano on which he can silently mimic play. He gets jaundice and survives.

In August 1944, during the Warsaw uprising, the Polish resistance attacks a German building across the street from Władysław's hideout. A tank shells his apartment building, forcing him to hide elsewhere in a deserted and war-torn section of the city. He stays in a damaged and abandoned house, where he finds a large can of pickles. He thinks he is alone in the house and tries to open the can. A Wehrmacht officer, Wilm Hosenfeld (Thomas Kretschmann), has gone to the house to play on the piano there. The officer learns about Władysław's ability when he is told by the officer to play anything; he plays Chopin's Ballade in G minor. Hosenfeld is moved and has Władysław show him where he hides in the attic. The German officer brings him food.

In January 1945, the Germans are forced to retreat due to the advance of the Red Army. Hosenfeld meets Szpilman for the last time and promises he will listen to him on Polish Radio after the war. He gives Szpilman his greatcoat to keep warm and leaves. However, this has almost fatal consequences for Szpilman when he is mistaken for a German soldier, when trying to hug the Polish soldiers and is shot at by Polish troops liberating Warsaw, who then find he is Polish and save him.

In Spring 1945, former inmates of a Nazi concentration camp pass a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp holding captured German soldiers and verbally abuse them. Hosenfeld, among those captured, overhears a released inmate lament over his former career as a violinist (named Zygmunt Lednicki in the book). He asks Lednicki if he knows Szpilman, which he confirms. Hosenfeld wishes for Szpilman to return the favor and help release him. Sometime later, Lednicki is able to bring Szpilman back to the site but they find it has been long abandoned.

Later, Szpilman works for Polish Radio and performs Chopin's Grand Polonaise brillante to a large and prestigious audience. An epilogue states that Szpilman continued to live in Warsaw until his death at the age of 88 in the year 2000, while Hosenfeld died in a Soviet POW gulag camp in 1952.



Mała Street in Warsaw's Praga-Północ district used for filming of The Pianist.

The story had deep connections with director Roman Polanski because he escaped from the Kraków 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 lead role, but he turned it down due to a previous commitment to a theatrical role. Over 1,400 actors auditioned for the role of Szpilman at a casting call in London. Unsatisfied with all who tried, 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 Studio in Potsdam, Germany. The Warsaw Ghetto and the surrounding city were recreated on the backlot of Babelsberg Studio 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 film crew 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 military hospital in Beelitz, Germany. The scenes that featured German soldiers destroying a Warsaw hospital with flamethrowers were filmed here. On 15 March, filming finally moved to Babelsberg Studios. The first scene shot at the studio was the complex and technically demanding scene in which Szpilman witnesses the ghetto uprising.

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 extermination camps was filmed at the National Defence University of Warsaw.

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


The Pianist received high critical acclaim and Brody's performance received extreme praise. It has a 96% approval rating on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 178 reviews with an average rating of 8.2/10 and the consensus, "Well-acted and dramatically moving, The Pianist is Polanski's best work in years."[6] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score, gave the film a score of 85/100, based on 40 reviews from critics.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave a positive review of the film, noting that "perhaps that impassive quality reflects what [director Roman] Polanski wants to say... By showing Szpilman as a survivor but not a fighter or a hero—as a man who does all he can to save himself, but would have died without enormous good luck and the kindness of a few non-Jews—Polanski is reflecting... his own deepest feelings: that he survived, but need not have, and that his mother died and left a wound that had never healed."[8] Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune said that the film "is the best dramatic feature I've seen on the Holocaust experience, so powerful a statement on war, inhumanity and art's redemption that it may signal Polanski's artistic redemption." He would later go on to say that the film "illustrates that theme and proves that Polanski's own art has survived the chaos of his life -- and the hell that war and bigotry once made of it."[9] Richard Schickel of Time called it a "raw, unblinkable film" and said that "We admire this film for its harsh objectivity and refusal to seek our tears, our sympathies."[10] Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said that the film "contains moments of irony, of ambiguity and of strange beauty, as when we finally get a look at Warsaw and see a panorama of destruction, a world of color bombed into black-and-white devastation." He also said that "In the course of showing us a struggle for survival, in all its animal simplicity, Polanski also gives us humanity, in all its complexity."[11] A.O. Scott of The New York Times said that Szpilman "comes to resemble one of Samuel Beckett's gaunt existential clowns, shambling through a barren, bombed-out landscape clutching a jar of pickles. He is like the walking punchline to a cosmic jest of unfathomable cruelty." He also felt that "Szpilman's encounter, in the war's last days, with a music-loving Nazi officer... ...courted sentimentality by associating the love of art with moral decency, an equation the Nazis themselves, steeped in Beethoven and Wagner, definitively refuted."[12]

Home release

The Pianist was released on DVD on 26 May 2003 in a double-sided disc Special Edition DVD, with the film on one side and special features on the other. Some Bonus Material included a making-of, interviews with Brody, Polanski, and Harwood, and clips of Szpilman playing the piano. The Polish DVD edition included an audio commentary track by production designer Starski and director of photography Edelman.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment released the film on HD-DVD on 8 January 2008 with extras comprising the featurette "A Story of Survival" and rare footage of the real Władysław Szpilman playing his piano, as well as additional interviews with Adrien Brody and other crew.

Optimum Home Entertainment released The Pianist to the European market on Blu-ray as part of their StudioCanal Collection on 13 September 2010,[13] the film's second release on Blu-ray. The first was troublesome due to issues with subtitles; the initial BD lacked subtitles for spoken German dialogue. Optimum later rectified this[14] but the initial release also lacked notable special features. The StudioCanal Collection version includes an extensive Behind the Scenes look as well as several interviews with the makers of the film and Szpilman's relatives.[15]


  • The piano piece heard at the beginning of the film is Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor Lento con gran espressione, Op. posth.
  • The piano piece that is heard being played by a next door neighbour while Szpilman was in hiding at an apartment is also an arrangement of Umówiłem się z nią na dziewiątą.
  • The piano music heard in the abandoned house when Szpilman had just discovered a hiding place in the attic is the Piano Sonata No. 14 (Moonlight Sonata) by Beethoven. It would later be revealed that German officer Hosenfeld was the pianist. The German composition juxtaposed with the mainly Polish/Chopin selection of Szpilman.
  • The piano piece played when Szpilman is confronted by Hosenfeld is Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23, but the version played in the movie was shortened (the entire piece lasts about 10 minutes).
  • The cello piece heard at the middle of the film, played by Dorota, is the Prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1.
  • The piano piece heard at the end of the film, played with an orchestra, is Chopin's Grande Polonaise brillante, Op. 22.
  • Shots of Szpilman's hands playing the piano in close-up were performed by Polish classical pianist Janusz Olejniczak (b. 1952), who also performed on the soundtrack.
  • Since Polanski wanted the film to be as realistic as possible, any scene showing Brody playing was actually his playing overdubbed by recordings performed by Janusz Olejniczak. In order for Brody's playing to look like it was at the level of Władysław Szpilman's, he spent many months prior to and during the filming practising so that his keystrokes on the piano would convince viewers that Brody himself was playing.


See also


  1. ^ (15)"THE PIANIST".  
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Hare, William (2004). LA Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland and Company. p. 207.  
  5. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Pianist". Retrieved 25 October 2009. 
  6. ^ "The Pianist". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  7. ^ "The Pianist". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  8. ^ Ebert, Roger (3 January 2003). "The Pianist". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 23 December 2012. 
  9. ^ Wilmington, Michael (January 5, 2003). "Polanski's `Pianist' may put `profligate dwarf' in better light".  
  10. ^ Schickel, Richard (December 15, 2002). "Have a Very Leo Noel". Time. p. 4. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  11. ^ LaSalle, Mick (January 3, 2003). "Masterpiece / Polanski's 'The Pianist' is a true account of one man's survival in the Warsaw ghetto". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  12. ^ Scott, A.O. (December 27, 2002). "Surviving the Warsaw Ghetto Against Steep Odds". The New York Times. Retrieved November 25, 2012. 
  13. ^ "StudioCanal Collection". Retrieved 24 June 2010. 
  14. ^ "Problems with initial BD release". Retrieved 1 August 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Pianist on BD". Retrieved 1 August 2010. 

External links

Preceded by
Goya Award for Best European Film
Succeeded by
Good Bye Lenin!
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