Have you ever seen a movie in a theater and witnessed the audience NOT get up when it was "over"? Not move a muscle? Not talk? Not clap? Just sit and watch the credits roll, listen to the music play? Watch a pianist's hands on the keyboard? And then, when the last word come up on the screen and the pianist finishes his tune and the orchestra plays its last chord, the audience in the movie stands up and gives an ovation... and so does the audience in the movie theater?
That's what I experienced tonight.
I think I first heard about The Pianist
a month ago, a review in the NY Times. Then Roger Ebert reviewed it. I read another review somewhere else along the line, then a profile of the actor Adrien Brody. It only really took a few words of any of those reviews to make we want to see the film. It was like a calling almost, a feeling that I had
to see it. I don't mean that "Oh, it's a 'dramatic,' 'serious,' 'acclaimed'
movie by Roman Polanski" calling either -- I mean, I had this feeling this was a movie I just couldn't miss.
Compared to most people I know, even people who (supposedly) "don't go to the movies much," I really don't go to see many movies in the theaters. I think my average must be about four movies a year. I don't even wait to see them on video, I just am sort of indifferent. I love movies, don't get me wrong, it's just that it never seems important enough to me except for sometimes, like in this instance, when I get a calling and I know. A voice says "Wendy, this movie is meant for you."
To say the movie is brilliant is not doing it justice. It sounds paltry to me, flippant, like I'm being chatty and saying "Oh, it's so brilliant, it's divine
" when in fact I'm trying to say, would like to say, that the movie is just so perfectly conceived and executed you hardly believe it could have been done by humans. That crew of people, most of them Polish, who worked on this movie under Roman Polanski, harneshed together forces to make a movie that, to me, is almost supernatural in its eloquence.
I'm not going to summarize the plot here, as I think anybody reading this knows they can go to IMDB
and get that. What I would
like to summarize are some
of the reaons this movie is so great. Or maybe just the main reason. I don't know, it's even hard to know what to pick. The acting? Superb -- not only Brodie, who is hauntingly, achingly expressive in his near silence, but the entire cast.. The direction? Flawless -- Polanski put his heart and soul in this. The cinematography? Beautiful. Mood? Costumes? Music? The feeling
of it? Supreme.
But I think actually, now that I say all that, the main thing that makes the movie what it is has to be the way it unfolds. It's not "plotted." You don't ever feel manipulated. There's no "set-up" to make you feel sympathy or feel happy. There are no Oscar-winning speeches or big "statements" or heavy-handed symbolism. What you see is a story unfold of what happens to one man over six years. He starts out with a job, family, home, security, and ends with nothing. In between he is starved, hidden, worked, escaped, abused, beaten, starved again and again, hidden again and again, escaped again, beaten again until finally he is nearly mad, nearly dead. He is not made out to be a hero, nor is he some big symbol of all the Jews who died. He's not anything more than just a man who managed not to get killed. It is chance, it is luck. It's not because God wants a Polish pianist to survive. Sure, the German officer does help him out but even in that, there's no heroism. It happens. That is all.
I have seen many, many movies, documentaries and dramatic filsm about the Holocaust, the Jewish ghettos, life in wartorn Europe, people being hidden, beaten, rounded up, tortured. I've read a lot of it too. My freshman year of high school we spent four months studying genocide, not only of the Jews, but of the Armenians, of other ethnic groups. In college I took a psychology class that I think was called "Good and Evil / Cruelty and Kindness" taught by a professor who, like Roman Polanski, was a Jew (Hungarian) hidden from the Nazis. His course focused on what makes certain people kind, helping, rescuers, what makes altruism happen, versus what makes humans turn their back, form mobs, commit cruelty. And in a decade of German classes, believe me, I certainly read a lot about this topic. But still, never seen anything like this. The closest thing I can think of was a movie I saw aired on PBS once that was nothing but unnarrated footage shot by the Allies showing the liberation and investigation of the Konzentrationslagern. That gutted me because like this movie, there wasn't any guile to it at all. It just showed
Of course, Polanski didn't just show up in Poland and let the cameras roll, nor did the screenplay or acting or sets of war-time Warsaw just happen. It was done deliberately. And because of that, it is masterpiece and I'm saying right now, the Palm D'Or at Cannes is not
I may write more on this later -- heck, I'm sure I will - but for now just let me say Bravo.