The Pianist- a true movie masterpiece

One of the greatest movies ever made about war and the strength of the human spirit is The Pianist. Even after you see it, you’ll remember the brutality of the story. 

It tells the true story of Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), whose family was forced to flee Poland during World War II. The Nazis invading Poland severely restricted the lives of Jewish citizens, resulting in their eventual deportation. 

The Pianist movie opens with a visual collage of Warsaw in 1939 with the music of Chopin playing in the background and then a section of an interior Polish radio studio where Adrian Brody plays the piano as Wladyslaw Szpilman. Janusz Olejniczak’s playing is heard throughout the soundtrack for The Pianist.

Poland is pretty fond of Chopin, who was born in Poland and is best remembered for his virtuosic piano compositions. The inclusion of Chopin’s piano music in this first scene is far more than a logical choice. It sets the film’s setting in Poland – especially, Warsaw, the country’s capital – as well as the world of a great pianist. The sequence also communicates a message of Polish nationalism at the start of a novel about a war that Poland would lose twice, first to the Nazis and then to the Soviets, as has been said.

On September 1, 1939, the Nazi invasion of Poland turns Szpilman’s, his parents’, and his three siblings’ lives upside down. They are obliged to follow new anti-Semitic policies, leave most of their belongings behind, and relocate to the Warsaw Ghetto, a portion of the city designated by the Nazis as the city’s new Jewish district.

Szpilman sells his piano for a pittance in order to alleviate his family’s poverty and hunger. The family is marched into the Jewish quarter alongside the rest of the city’s Jews. The family can see German labourers erecting the wall that will divide the ghetto from the rest of Warsaw from the lot beneath their new home’s window. The music accompanying the family’s journey to the Warsaw Ghetto – Wojciech Kilar’s rendition of a Jewish folk tune – takes on a foreboding tone.

During World War II, the Nazis invaded Poland, confining Jews to a ghetto and eventually sending them off to concentration camps. This film contains graphic and heartbreaking images. Although this is a difficult message to deliver, Roman Polanski works very hard to give it a thoughtful, skillful presentation. 

A music-loving German soldier treats the pianist kindly when Nazi brutality against the Jews seems unbearable.

To match the somber themes in Polinski’s screen adaptation, the soundtrack needed to be melancholy. It would be impossible to do better than to turn to the Romantic composer, Frédéric Chopin.

Many of Chopin’s masterpieces are featured on The Pianist soundtrack album, played by Polish classical pianist and actor, Janusz Olejniczak. Szpilman often shared his love for Chopin with listeners on-air, so many of Chopin’s blockbusters were used in the film.

Chopin expert, Olejniczak won the 6th prize in the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw in 1970, making him the perfect fit for The Pianist.

Chopin’s works are among the featured pieces:  

  • Nocturne in C sharp minor
  • Ballade No. 1 in G minor
  • Andante spianato et grand Polonaise Brillante.

It is this original score that won Polish film composer Wojciech Kilar the César Award for Best Film Music in 2003 for his moving work Moving to the Ghetto Oct. 31, 1940.

The Pianist is a true depiction of emotional war visuals alongside soul-awakening music. The movie is a true masterpiece indeed.

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