Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

The Pianist and genre tangles

Last night I was reading a book about film, and it said something really obvious which I had never realised – that all films should actually be given two genres.
So for example, if it’s got horses and cowboys in it, it’s automatically a western; spaceships it’s sci-fi and battles it’s a war film.
But that “genre” only describes the setting – for within a western you can have a buddy movie, a romance, a comedy. Lumping Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Brokeback Mountain and Blazing Saddles together on account of their location is…painful when you think about it. Curious, eh? And I’d never noticed it…
Last month Empire printed a list of westerns-which-weren’t-westerns, which is almost the opposite of this example –movies set elsewhere but with the right kind of plot.

Just a warning before I start the review. Everyone has their own “safety mechanism” for dealing with unpleasant subjects. Some go into denial, some become indignant – I become flippant. Now believe you me, the holocaust was a horrible thing and I’d really rather not think about it. So you must forgive any weak humour, forced levity or understatements because I can’t handle this topic if I think about it sensibly.

The Pianist - 3.5/5

Plot synopsis: A Jewish Pole spends the war avoiding the Nazis and trying not to get shot

What was good:
When a Jewish family toasts to peace and freedom on the * of * 19*, you know you’re in for a rough time – especially if they’re living in Poland. The gradual transformation of happy people into hungry people who are willing to eat off the road is excellently portrayed. For me, the worst thing about this story is not the mass death of millions (too horrid to comprehend properly) but the moral degredation which it produced. For example, a man robs an old woman of her food, which is terrible. And no one goes to help her, which is just as bad.
This film is actually a lot less miserable than it would first appear. This does not, however, mean it makes for very comfortable viewing. The casual violence is seen almost as a fact of life, with people in the Warsaw ghetto treading over the bodies and emphasising the bleakness of the situation. Although it does occasionally make you wonder if the Germans had anything better to do than go out looking for people to shoot. The powers of hindsight make it woefully obvious that something horrible is happening, and if somebody simply did something about it, the world would have been saved a lot of pain and misery.
Our hero – whose name I cannot pronounce, much less spell – does nothing heroic for the entire film, for which I commend the writers. It would have been so easy to have him rescuing babies and labradors. His character is stronger because of this. Indeed, it is made stronger by he too being indifferent to the horrors surrounding him. Another commendation for the screenplay is the absolute lack of cloying sentimentality. Once or twice I thought it was about to get slushy, but on the whole it was soundly avoided. The characters were all wonderfully reserved on all parts – though Henrik could have been a little less cardboard-cut-out.
While we’re celebrating strange talents, I also wish to thank the continuity department who do an excellent job of extending his hair, successively destroying his clothes and maintaining the same people we see shot from the upstairs window as corpses for the scenes on the ground.
Oooh, one last note – the music was wonderful! But considering it was written by Chopin and Beethoven (Moonlight Sonata!), that’s no great surprise.

What was bad:
Well, to start with the film contained an almost complete lack of humour – although that’s pardonable given the subject matter. Nevertheless, it began to seem very long in the middle, as our hero moves from one hiding place to another, and tries not to starve to death. It is always the problem of films based on autobiographies that they can seem episodic, and this is no different.
As a testiment to what happened it serves well, as a piece of entertainment less so. I’m not just talking about the subject matter, as that was never going to be very enjoyable. I’m talking about it as a film. Despite frequently being close to discovery, there was a failure to build up any suspense – somehow I never felt he was really in any danger.
It was also occasionaly confusing as to where exactly he was or who the supporting cast were. Not that it actually mattered much of the time, but clarity would have been nice.
Just a personal thing – Adrien Brody was very good. But I’m not sure he deserved the Oscar. Not sure who did, but I didn’t see his performance as anything special.

Best Moment: There are one or two wonderful moments in here – the men who request him to stop playing so they can test for fake coins; the few moments he spends preparing to leap from the window and the air-piano scene. However my favorite has to be the sound effects in the aftermath of the tank (actually, it’s a German panzer…according to my WWII expert) attack. Expertly conveyed!

Was it good? Oh yes – impeccably well made.
Did I like it? Dull, actually.

Recommended for: the piano players in your life; have a history project to do.
Don’t watch if you: have a really sensitive disposition; are feeling hungry, thirsty or chilly at the time; are an evil Nazi; are watching with someone who knows their WWII history (One conversation from our family ran like this – “Oooh, they’ve got their history wrong. There should have been a second Warsaw uprising” “When?” “In fact, about now…” At that very moment on screen: three passers by pull out automatics and spray the sidewalk with bullets. What a surprise…on the other hand, having a scholar of German nearby would have been very helpful.)


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