Back in 1992, Steven Spielberg asked Roman Polanski to direct Schindler's List. But Polanski, a Polish Jew whose mother died in Auschwitz, turned him down, claiming it was too painful a subject. A decade later, he's clearly had a change of heart.
Adapted from the autobiography of Holocaust survivor Wadislaw Szpilman, The Pianist charts his experiences of being sent to the Warsaw ghetto when the Nazis invaded Poland. Szpilman (Adrien Brody) subsequently escapes and hides in an empty apartment as the war rages around him, his only company a piano he is too afraid to play lest he's discovered.
After flops like Bitter Moon and The Ninth Gate, this is exactly the kind of worthy drama Polanski needs on his resumé to win back some artistic Brownie points. Yet, although it scooped the Palme d'Or at Cannes, The Pianist has divided critics, with some remaining unconvinced by its stark storyline and digitally-recreated cityscapes.
It's easy to see why it's caused such controversy - there's something strangely uninvolving about how The Pianist treats the suffering and misery that reduced Warsaw's 500,000 Jewish populace to just 20 survivors. Like the passive and unheroic Szpilman, Polanski never allows himself to become too involved with the on-screen action. Maybe that's the only way he can deal with such a personal subject, but it makes the movie all rather underwhelming. Surely that's the last thing a film about the Holocaust should be?