Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Pianist (2002)

“If you prick us, do we not bleed? It you tickle us, we we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” 

Roman Polanski’s Academy Award winning film, The Pianist

Interestingly enough, this brief recitation of Shakespeare was not nearly the most poetic moment in Roman Polanski’s portrayal of the life of Polish-Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman in The Pianist. This film, one that has received much critical acclaim, tells the tale of an artist living through the bottomless chasm of human suffering that was the Holocaust. What Polanski delivers is remarkable.

The film is based on Wladyslaw Szpilman’s book Death of a City. It is an auto-biographical account of Szpilman’s experience during WWII. The film is exceptional in that it manages to capture a Nazi occupied Poland, and the nature of the hardships experienced there while also preserving a separate spatial plane for understandings of incongruous things, like  family, souls, and music. In times of keen suffering life seems to be reduced to the baser things, such as hunger or shelter. The director and the actors do a wonderful job of communicating this.

The film begins with Szpilman playing the piano, and it ends similarly. However, all that is between is a cacophony of loss and grief. There is a certain rhythmic quality to the progression of the film, not unlike that of the piece Szpilman performs (Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Chopin) for Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who upon discovering Szpilman beseeches him to play. The loss of music was a theme that I think, while subdued, was almost as strong as the calamity surrounding it. There is a scene wherein Szpilman is in hiding, and his lodging has a piano that he cannot play for fear of being discovered. So he sits at the piano and pantomimes playing a glorious song. The passion and warmth is Brody’s jaundiced, bearded, hollow face were magnificent. The dutiful conviction Brody brings to this scene and countless others is in large part what makes this film seem real. His beginnings as a famous pianist were cool and deferential. Those qualities carried throughout the film, unhampered by tragedy and echoes of unrepentant diaspora.

Adrien Brody as Władysław Szpilman

Wladyslaw Szpilman: It’s a funny time to say this, but… 
Halina: What? 
Wladyslaw Szpilman: I wish I knew you better. 

Polanski’s decisive focus on peripheral characters was something of value. There is a scene where a woman is killed during a Jewish uprising. A Nazi shoots her in the back and she falls to the ground, dead and prostrating in front of a hospital. There’s another scene wherein a troupe of Nazis intimidate a small group of Jews, of varying ages, into dancing and singing. In another scene, or rather a string of scenes, a woman is wailing the words ‘why did I do it?’ and we come to find out that she smothered her own child while hiding from Nazis. Another scene shows a woman asking around for her husband; this woman appears several times, each time asking is anyone has seen her husband. It is these scenes that allow us to remain in the first person without losing the impact of the collective trauma. This is done quite gracefully by Polanski.

Captain Wilm Hosenfeld: Thank God, not me. He wants us to survive. Well, that’s what we have to believe. 

Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Wilm Hosenfeld

The ray of light in this film is awarded to Nazi Wilm Hosenfeld, who ensured Szpilman’s survival by feeding and concealing him. Whose very existence is a defense against cynicism and the inclination human beings have to parse the world into black or white, good or bad. Of all the things Polanski achieved in this film, just choosing to tell the story is the greatest achievement.

I haven’t tallied up the numbers, but the Holocaust has got to be the most common piece of subject matter where the art of film is concerned. I think it captivates us so in that it challenges everything we presume to know about life, and humankind. The gravity of shared horror is great enough to award the Holocaust a permanent spot in the archive of humanity. Polanski’s masterful representation of Wladyslaw Szpilman’s story was one worth watching, and one that will touch you.

Rating: 9/10

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Filed under Biopic, Drama, Film Adaptation

Candy (2006)

“When you can stop, you don’t want to. When you want to stop, you can’t.”

Stopping and starting and changing and losing and gaining and finding and being lost. All things that director Neil Armfield attempts to translate onto film with Candy, a film adaptation of author Luke Davies Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. The film stars late actor, and man of legend, Heath Ledger.

Directed by Neil Armfield

Alongside Ledger is another couple of beloved Aussies, Abbie Cornish and our favorite old queen, Geoffrey Rush. Spoilers are drawing nigh.

Candy is the story of a young drug addicted poet named Dan (Heath Ledger) who falls in love with a young artist named Candy (Abbie Cornish). His drunk, vagrant charm draws her into a vortex of romance and heroine addiction. They’re relationship goes the way of destruction from then on.

Seeing as this film is based on a novel, I want to make it clear that I have not read said novel and can only judge the quality of the film alone. That being said, I thought that there was a cog missing. It may have been the dialouge, overwrought in places. Or maybe the pacing of the film, which seemed a bit rocky (which perhaps could have been a way to illustrate the nature of the main characters’ relationship). I enjoyed the story. I think it could have benefited from some added ingredients, such as a prelude (however brief) to the madness that was Dan and Candy’s relationship. An explanation, or even an ambiguous reference to Dan’s parentage and childhood. For a movie driven by characters there seemed to be too many missed opportunities to develop them. That, however, did not stop the cast from knocking it the fuck out of the park. So let’s begin with those brilliant bastards.

DanThere’s no going back. If you’re given a reprieve, I think it’s good to remember just how thin it is. 

This film has a certain allure, for me at least, because it features a prematurely deceased, brilliant, actor whose skillfully crafted performances have been made more haunting since his departure. This particular film is resonant because Ledger died of a drug overdose, a fate that both Dan and Candy constantly face. Ledger’s performance was another great addition to the impressive, albeit incomplete, resume he left behind. Ledger has the skill of completely embedding himself into a character. He is the smallest doll in a matryoshka doll set, and his containers are all character. He makes the viewer feel as though they are witnessing a string of private moments. With posture like an old scarecrow and a smile faithfully crooked, Ledger was a clean white bed sheet strung up on a wall with the character of Dan swirling on a film reel nearby, projected plainly onto it.

Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger

Elaine Wyatt: What happened to that beautiful little girl? 
Candy: What happened? What happened? Can’t you see? Don’t you understand? I have been clenching my fucking fists since I was six years old!

Having not seen Abbie Cornish in any other leading role I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe my complete lack of expectations contributed to this, but she was brilliant. In terms of the script she was responsible for delivering some of the heavier dialogue, and she did so magnificently. She can do much more with a down-turned eye and cotton white panties than most actresses can do with full a make-up crew and a million dollar style budget.

Dan: Casper was like the dad you always wanted – the one who lets you have lollies and fizzy drink, who lets you stay up and watch the late night movies. 

Geoffrey Rush (Casper) as a homosexual heroine cook. It was brilliant, I must say. There’s something in all of us that needs to see Geoffrey Rush be a homosexual on screen, and the satisfaction from having finally seen it is my own personal “yellow jesus.” His character hints at something not entirely approached in the story, but the mystery adds to the impact of his fate, and to its affect on Dan.

Academy Award Winner Heath Ledger as Dan

There were shining scenes. The scenes when they were most intimate, which were enhanced by the fantastic connection between Ledger and Cornish. The withdrawal scenes. The scene when Dan is reading Candy’s story on the wall was a particularly powerful moment in the story. The film had some very precious moments.

But the film suffered at the hands of a director who did not properly judge which plot points to emphasize and which to let creep in slowly. Maybe even experimentation with chronology would have improved it; Armfield had all the pieces, he just didn’t know where to put them. Where Armfield did succeed was in terms of atmosphere. The film felt clenched, which is often a bi-product of first person narration, but Armfield made it as though the life Dan and Candy lead was the only life, save brief encounters with Candy’s parents when the couple looked sick and rattled by comparison. This spoke to the nature of addiction. The thrill and the hunt. The high and the low.

This film was best in it’s quietest scenes. Unfortunately Armfield didn’t always know when to be quiet.

Rating: 4/10

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Filed under Drama, Film Adaptation, Indie