While walking away from the well-done The Pianist, I wondered aloud to a friend, "We've now been so saturated with Holocaust dramas, can anybody – even someone of Roman Polanski's caliber – really add any new angle, any fresh insight, as to what happened, or how it affected people?" The answer, of course, was "No." At least not unless you make a movie that shows Jews as evil and Nazis as sweethearts, which I don't think is gonna happen.
So with The Pianist we have yet another impressive, grim, horrifying account of these events, seen through the eyes of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a popular classical pianist who lost his family but survived several years in the Warsaw ghetto – and hiding out in secret apartments throughout town with the battle literally at his doorstep – while World War II tore apart his country and his people. Adrien Brody does a fine job as Szpilman, speaking little but letting his naturally sad and sympathetic face do all the acting for him.
Szpilman's saga might be amazing, but after the slightly similar story told in Europa Europa (which, while also based on fact, is far more outrageous: its Jewish protagonist posed as a Hitler Youth!), even his experiences seem less surreal, less incredible. There is a hint of something new here, as it examines the old theory that "art saves lives" and in fact literalizes it – the real Szpilman survived because people believed his talent was so great that he had to be spared – but it's a subtle point that may not be entirely communicated.
All that said, the muted cinematography is remarkable, as is the production design, and Polanski is in top form: devotees of his work will see his personality stamped all over the film. Not only because Polanski himself escaped the camps as a child in Poland, but because Szpilman belongs wholeheartedly in the director's coterie of lonely, isolated urbanites, trying their best to stay alive and stay sane.