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THE PIANIST (article first published : 2003-05-14)

A must-see movie is The Pianist, a poignant Holocaust drama whose star Adrien Brody, the gaunt, pale and hook-nosed actor seen as a punk-rock disciple in Summer of Sam, has received a well-deserved Oscar nomination, along with director Roman Polanski.

Also in line for Oscars for best film, costume design, adapted screenplay and editing, this is the moving story of famed Polish musician Wadislaw Szpilman, on whose autobiography the story is based.

Szpilman had just begun making a name for himself as a classical pianist, popular on Warsaw radio, when the Nazis invaded Poland. He'd hoped for assistance from his gentile friends but, not finding it, instead joined his family to be sent to a cramped Warsaw ghetto.

Szpilman subsequently escaped to live in constant fear for his life as he went on the run and into hiding, scavenging for meals and safety. His situation worstened after his family were sent off to death camps.

This well-paced, stark and compelling film, for which the already-thin Brody shed 13,6kg, is a very personal drama, framed by the tragic history surrounding one man's story.

And what a history it was, Polanski hitting on details of humiliation and horror with scenes including Szpilman and his family watching a wheelchair-bound neighbour being hurled to his death from a fourth-floor balcony because he did not salute a Nazi. Also heart-wrenching is an incidental scene of a hungry old woman being robbed of her meagre pot of food, and her attacker feverishly slurping it up from the dirty road when it spills during a scuffle.

Then there's the unsettling sequence in which Szpilman tries to help a young child smuggler who is killed as he tries to scramble to safety. And a moment that will long be etched in mind has a skeletal Brody reacting with a combination of disgust and relief when he finally gets a few crumbs from a man on whom he has become reliant for food; a man who tends to often forget about him.

Also featuring Maureen Lipman, Frank Finlay and Emilia Fox, The Pianist won the 2002 Palme D'or award at Cannes last year. It comes highly recommended - a rating of 9/10. Billy Suter




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