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Django Unchained (2012)

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Directed by Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino is back, and with him he has brought a truly remarkable piece of work. Django Unchained is the story of Django Freeman, a slave who finds his freedom and sets out to find his wife, from whom he was tragically separated. In the spirit of the old western and also of classic slavery films like Roots Tarantino attempts not only to approach the nasty topic of slavery, but to compose a sort of epic tale of heroism for blacks, that has been curiously absent from cinema where this particular bit of history is concerned.

Like all of Tarantino’s films, the cast is wonderful and strange. In a line-up you wouldn’t quite understand how all of these actors and actresses fit together, but Tarantino’s perverted and imaginative methodology acts as a sort of equalizer. The film stars Jamie Foxx as the title character Django, Christoph Waltz as bounty hunter and retired dentist Dr. King Schultz, Kerry Washington as Django’s wife Broomhilda, Leonardo DiCaprio as plantation owner Calvin Candie, and Tarantino’s favorite player Samuel L. Jackson as the detestable Uncle Tom, Steven.

Unsurprisingly all of the actors gave astoundingly wonderful performances. Each character clearly represented an attitude

Jamie Foxx as Django

Jamie Foxx as Django

and point of view relevant to the time period, and each actor embodied that point of view with surgical precision. The pressure was on for Foxx, seeing as a western needs a strong, unique leading man whose charm and determination set the tone for the film. In this, I would say that Foxx succeeded. His was one of the more dialed back performances, despite the jarring violence he was charged with portraying. This quality juxtaposes nicely with Tarantino’s poppy, in your face style of storytelling. Waltz on the other hand showed the same indescribable charm that we saw in Inglorious Basterds. Dr. King Schultz, the

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda

Kerry Washington as Broomhilda

character, adds an interesting and foreign element to the slave story we are accustomed to hearing. Washington had very few lines, but astoundingly her performance was the strongest. She conveys more

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and Jamie Foxx as Django

emotion with her body and her countenance than most of the films actors do throughout. DiCaprio fits into this character role so naturally and vibrantly that it was almost theatre. You got the feeling that his portrayal of Calvin Candie was literally the character that Tarantino formed in his mind. Jackson was truly and unbearably horrid, which means of course that he did his job exactly. He has that ability, to step into a role and give it exactly what it needs. Overall, the cast was tuned perfectly. Even down to the peripheral characters.

Django, as a telling of a man who wants to find his wife, is powerful and beautiful. Django as a retelling of slave times, was not told gently, but rather brutally. It was told, in many ways, how it was, with frequent use

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie

of the word “nigger” from both the white and black actors. The film included mandingo fighting, klan riots, whipping, scientific racism, slave trading, prostitution, and all manner of racial politics. While humorous in places, it was as honest a telling as can be expected from this director, and he did well with the subject matter. Django as a story that gives black people a western hero, was a success. Tarantino made a film that deals with the darker side of U.S. history, but also made a film that tells a story about black people, and black love, which is lacking outside of films made exclusively by black film makers.

As with most of his films, Tarantino injects style into every aspect of a film. The soundtrack was wonderfully various. The inclusion of a theme song, along with songs specially made for the film like Rick Ross’ 100 Black Coffins. Everything from the music to the font of the captions, to the schmaltzy close ups throughout the film. Everything Tarantino does works because he does it with such candor. With such a remarkable posture, it is hard to imagine Tarantino doing any wrong.

I could go on about how personally impressed I am with Tarantino’s ability to tell stories, but I would mostly like to impress upon you the importance of this particular story. Most films are attempting to tell stories that have already been told. With Django, Tarantino tells a new story in a new way. And this particular story is so needed.

Rating: 10/10

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Filed under Action, Comedy, Drama, Western

On the Road (2012)

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”

Directed by Walter Salles

Directed by Walter Salles

On the Road is a film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s classic, and genius beat-generation tale of the same name. The film was directed by Walter Salles, and stars Sam Riley as Sal Paradise, Kristen Stewart as Marylou, and Garrett Hedlund as the illustrious Dean Moriarty. The difficulty of this films lies in the challenge to portray a novel that has many times been deemed unrepresentable. Whether or not they succeeded can be measured by the portrayal of the main characters, and the authenticity of Salles representation of the very distinct beat generation.

Sam Riley as Sal Paradise

Sam Riley as Sal Paradise

On the Road, the book, can be described as a dialogue between Kerouac and his youth. The characters of the book represent people who were actually a part of a trip Kerouac took across the country. The book reflects the journey that Kerouac took with Neal Cassady (who Dean Moriarty is based upon), a major face of the beat generation and the book is written stream of consciousness with very few breaks. Hence its reputation as being unrepresentable.

The film includes some of the important aspects of the original story. The costuming was right and the scenery was right. But the story was anachronistic and the casting was questionable. Sam Riley played a convincing Sal Paradise. Compared to Dean, Sal is a very understated

On the Road cast

On the Road cast

character. The subtleties of Sal Paradise are mostly captured by Riley’s performance. Though there may have been a certain calm lacking in him, we can perhaps chalk that up to the fact that the movie seemed mostly to take place in the present while the book was more of a reflection by an older Sal. Kristen Stewart played the love interest of Dean, and sometimes Sal, and as portrayals go it was not the strongest. That can’t be completely blamed on Stewart however; it seemed that she played the character as written, but the character was not written properly. The performances of the smaller cast members, however, ought not be overlooked. Amy Adams, Tom Sturridge, Elizabether Moss, Kirsten Dunst, and Viggo Mortensen performed splendidly. Their individual performance, while short-lived, illuminated the story and brought wonderful clarity to adaptation.

Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty

Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty

Hedlund’s portrayal of Dean Moriarty is still one that is stewing with me. It takes time and patience to digest Dean Moriarty and it will take even more time to understand how one portrays such a character. Dean is truly an enigma. It seems so even to Kerouac. Another reason this book may be deemed unrepresentable is because one of the key players, Dean, is written from Sal’s point of view. So any actor seeking to portray Dean has to consider what of Dean is unseen to Sal and represent that as well. All complexities aside, Hedlund did a bang up job on Dean Moriarty. It would have been very easy to overstate the characters, and turn him into a caricature. but Hedlund’s performance was finely tuned and he burned down to the bottom of the wick of Dean Moriarty.

The power of On the Road as it was written most likely cannot be recaptured on a screen. It happens so vividly in the heart upon being read that the best medium for the retelling of Kerouac’s tale seems to be the original scroll, not the movie screen. That being said, Salles and his beloved cast made a hell of a go. When you watch this film you might feel that magic for a moment. You might feel yourself atop that pickup truck with the wind blowing through you. You might live for a moment in the brass of the jazz saxophones. You might even feel the fever of Dean, and the quite passion of Sal, and the beat generation pressing into your lungs like a sticky Mexico night.

Rating: 6.5/10

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Silver Linings Playbook (2012)

“When life reaches out at a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back.”

Directed By David O. Russell.

Directed By David O. Russell.

Silver Linings Playbook is a film adaptation of author Matthew Quick’s novel about a Pat Solitano, who struggles to readjust after a stint in a mental hospital. David O. Russell, director of I Heart Huckabees and The Fighter, again demonstrates his understanding of human movement through the world with this peculiar foray into the psychosocial.

Leading actress Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Tiffany, an apparently fucked up girl whose instability was brought on by her husband’s death. Lawrence, unsurprisingly, slips into the role like an old professional and plays Tiffany in a very human way. While Lawrence has experienced recent success with blockbusters like The Hunger Games (also a film adaptation), she was recognized before then for her acting prowess when she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Academy Awards, for 2010 independent film Winter’s Bone (also based on a book). So for those of us who like to stay plugged into the indie movie scene, Jennifer Lawrence was already on the radar screen.

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany

Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano and Jennifer Lawrence as Tiffany

Lead actor Bradley Cooper on the other hand was not. While he has demonstrated great versatility in moving between comedies and dramas more smoothly than most actors do, Cooper hadn’t exactly had his Winter’s Bone, so to speak. but with Silver Linings Playbook, Cooper’s embodiment of Pat Solitano is gloriously uncomfortable. Pat set’s your teeth on edge. He makes you want to leave the room. It is as if his instability provokes instability in others. Cooper played the role like a cello. For every quick remark, every tense or loose muscle in his neck, every twitch and flicker Cooper was there, without the thin buffer that separates actor and character. Every nerve in his body was Pat Solitano. Every measure of temperament, the highs and the lows, were there and realistic. This may have been his best performance to date.

Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano

Jacki Weaver as Dolores Solitano and Robert De Niro as Patricio Solitano

Reunited on screen with Cooper was Robert De Niro, who played Pat’s father, Pat Sr. Bookkeeper and dedicated Eagles fan, Pat Sr. was a superstitious and beautiful man. De Niro’s acting sensibility is always well adjusted to a balance between guarded and vulnerable, and that is exactly what his character was. De Niro’s performance was only illuminated by surrounding performances by Jacki Weaver (wife, Dolores Solitano), and Chris Tucker (Pat’s friend, Danny).

The story isn’t one that everyone can relate to, but its keen resonance is probably the most compelling truth of its greatness. A combination skilled performances by a wonderful cast, brilliant directing, and a naturally occurring, honest string of events has wrought a wonderful mess of a film.

This film is a romance. It could probably be described as a romantic comedy, but it is an outlier if that is so. All of the actors seemed to be so huddled around their characters. The vibrations of human life were all throughout. It was very unusual, and no part of it felt like acting. But more than this film is a romantic comedy, it is a biography. It is a biography of every gentle, and every violent movement and moment in the world. This film is soul cartography, and it is a silver lining around the dark cloud of the film industry.

Rating: 9/10

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Filed under Dark Comedy, Film Adaptation, Romance, Romantic Comedy

Looper (2012)

“Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been.”

Directed and written by Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson gives us his take on time travel in the recent film, Looper, featuring rising star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and old pro Bruce Willis. The film takes place in the year 2074, and from the onset we are informed by a disembodied voice, later attached to the protagonist Joe, that time travel will be invented three decades from his time and that when it is the risk-level of murdering a person and getting caught is very high. Therefore, mobsters from 30 years in the future send back their hits to the past where hired assassins like Joe, called loopers, kill them. The story takes a turn when Joe is tasked with killing his future self (Bruce Willis), or in looper jargon, “closing his loop.” SPOILERS LIE AHEAD, FRIENDS.

Breaking Bad director Rian Johnson does not disappoint with this film. The primary concern with films that take place in the future is that there is enough believability to remove the disconcerting effort, on the viewers part, of suspending disbelief. Johnson was able to succeed in that regard. The future that he constructs, 62 years from now, has biological, social, and technical advances that stem realistically from ones we are familiar with today. Johnson strategically plants plot points by incorporating certain advances that later become relevant in the film. His techniques are clear and effective, which are necessary qualities in a science fiction film.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper

The story really gets rolling after all the nuances of the future are established. Us Breaking Bad fans were excited to see that Johnson couldn’t resist the gritty addition of a new drug to the futuristic world; a drug that Joe is addicted to. But beyond that small treat, things really ramped up (and got a little mixed up chronology-wise) when Joe seemingly failed to close his loop, or in other words, kill himself. We are originally presented with a scene wherein Joe is bested by his older self, who escapes without being killed. Then time is rewound and we see the original event, where Joe successfully closes his loop, goes on to live his life, and as his

Bruce Willis as old Joe and Qing Zu as Wife

older self witnesses the death of his wife by mobsters who were enlisted to close his loop and all other loops by a man called the ‘Rainmaker.’ Thereon Old Joe decides to change events and live in order to ensure the safety of his wife’s future. It’s not easy to follow, as we tend to think of time as completely linear and time travel fucks that all up, but Johnson makes relatively clean work of it.

From this point in the story there exists a conflict of interests between young and old Joe. Young Joe wants to secure his job and the next 30 years of his life, and old Joe wants to save his future by killing the young Rainmaker, before he/she can even become the Rainmaker. In a shuffle between the two young Joe accidentally obtained the coordinates of one of the children old Joe though might be the Rainmaker, and then the story takes an unexpected turn. One might event call it a twist. The rest of the film is a wonderful secret that can only be imparted through the privilege of viewing it (gotta draw the line somewhere!).

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe

Fledgeling leading man Joseph Gordon-Levitt was impressive as per usual. For those of us who swoon over him it was a bit difficult to adjust to the fact that it looked like Bruce Willis’ face had been copied and pasted onto his, but the desired effect of making them look like different versions of the same man was more or less achieved. Bruce Willis is always convincing as the brawny, but in love, ruggedly handsome older man. They both brought the required emotion, and I walked away believing that they were both Joe, and that they were both motivated by profound hurt and loss, which makes the ending very powerful.

Looper was a very solid time travel film, with an unexpected emotional twinge, and an ironic twist that gives new meaning to “breaking the cycle.”

Rating: 8/10

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

Directed by Stephen Chbosky

“You see things and you understand. You’re a wallflower.”

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the book, was written by American author Stephen Chbosky. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the film, was written and directed by American author and director Stephen Chbosky. Here we have the wettest  of wet dreams for any literature/film lover, the ultimate prize: an author actually directing their own story. I still can’t believe it, myself. The story is one we think we know quite well. Logan Lerman plays protagonist Charlie, an introverted teenager who begins his freshman year of high school burdened with his ambiguous past, but hopeful for a new start. (Spoilers)

The film begins with Charlie anonymously writing a letter to an unidentified source. While this theme doesn’t continue on as consistently as it should, the viewer gets the feeling that these letters are the framework in which the story is being told. Charlie’s first connection is with his English teacher, Bill, played by Paul Rudd. Here, literature becomes an important theme, and one the continues throughout the film. Bill begins to give Charlie books outside of class assignments, on which Charlie writes essays. Some of these books were classics like, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and finally J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Ryewhich Bill gives to Henry to keep.

The Smiths

As relationships to adults in this film go, this particular one is the brightest and most benevolent, and it is offset by rather morose ones. Paul Rudd is believable, and as usual makes a remarkable and very fluid transition from comedy to drama. There was a very nice intellectual and cultural element to the film. Other than the numerous references to famous literary idols, music was rather significant. The Smiths in particular connected Sam and Charlie. They even get into some culty stuff with Rocky Horror Picture Show. I don’t know about you all, but I wish my friend and I would have put on lip-syncing productions of Rocky Horror in high school. For those of us who love Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Rocky Horror, and The Smiths, you will feel a tinge of satisfaction from all the scenes these things are celebrated in.

Sam: Welcome to the island of misfit toys.

The performances from the younger actors in this film were something of great fascination. After a brief interaction at a football game Charlie gets sucked into a whirlwind of teenage whimsy and happenstance with the flamboyantly gay Patrick (played by Ezra Miller) and the luminescent Sam (played by Emma Watson). The introduction of these characters prompts a boost in the film’s tempo and provokes a rapidly evolving chain of events that

Logan Lerman as “Charlie” and Emma Watson as “Sam”

eventually leads to revelatory events and confessions. The characters of Patrick and Sam, who are step-siblings, are crucial to Charlie’s growth, and, interestingly enough, his eventual unraveling. Ezra Miller, unknown to most audiences, gave a surprisingly emotional performance. Melancholy is something that most actors are trained to relate, but Patrick is a comedic character whose eventually is faced with a dilemma so destructive that even he dissolves into sadness. Miller’s portrayal of the wounded comedian is an expert one. Watson, on the other hand, also delivers a performance that deserves to be remarked upon. While her American accent isn’t all the way there yet, Watson manages an honest performance. Her character is idealized by Charlie, and through his eyes she is a goddess of sorts. There is one particular scene, wherein she is standing in the back of a moving truck, with her arms spread and her chest open. The idea is that she is supposed to seem ethereal, and she does indeed, most likely as a result of Watson’s ability to deliver captivating, yet subtle, emotion through stillness. Similarly to the performances of Miller and Watson, Lerman utterly transforms into Charlie. With every word or movement you felt his tension, his hesitation, his shame and his desperate hopes. His performance is uniquely captivating, because its familiarity prompts an espousing of empathy.

Sam: Why do I and everyone I love pick people who treat us like we’re nothing?
Charlie: We accept the love we think we deserve.

All the stories within Charlie’s story become very important as the film progresses. First he witnesses his sister being hit by her boyfriend. Then he becomes aware of Patrick’s relationship with Craig, a football player whose true sexuality is a secret. Then Sam confides in him about being molested when she was younger, and all of this is told with intermediate ambiguous flashbacks of Charlie’s Aunt Helen whose mysterious presence in the storyline is unexplained and vaguely haunting for most of the film. Following these revelations things begin to unravel. There is a particular scene between Charlie and Patrick, where Patrick’s comedic facade finally disintegrates, and in a moment of

Ezra Miller as “Patrick” and Logan Lerman as “Charlie”

confused vulnerability he kisses Charlie. This scene is perhaps the most gentle and kind scene in the entire film. Afterwards he apologizes and embraces Charlie, who receives his embrace and assures him that it’s ‘okay’. Miller shines most in this scene, when the gravity of teenage blues bite down on young tongues and the triumph and folly of youth are magnified in an emotionally charged moment. These sad affairs all culminate in Charlie’s hospitalization, after his friends leave to college and he’s left alone with his nightmares, which we eventually come to understand as his being molested by his Aunt Helen when he was a child, and her subsequent death. Charlie’s pain, communicated masterfully through Lerman, was realized through his need to rid others of their pain. That it, the downside to being a wallflower: powerlessly observing the pain of others.

Charlie: Because I know there are people who say all these things don’t happen. And there are people who forget what it’s like to be 16 when they turn 17. I know these will all be stories someday. And our pictures will become old photographs. We’ll all become somebody’s mom or dad. But right now these moments are not stories. This is happening, I am here…

Possibly the best thing about this movie is that it does not belittle the troubles of young people. High school, adolescence, is arguably one of the most impactful times in any person’s life. In this way, Perks has a way of communicating a message so fundamental that the viewer cannot help but connect to it. Your story may not be the same, but the essence is the very same. Chbosky brings to life in this film what he brought to life with the book. He made something that taps into collective human trauma, and in doing so helped undo some of the knots that we sometimes have in our hearts. Some of our greatest quandaries are not from what we do not know, but from what we’ve known and never come to understand. Perks is pain and it is clarity.

Charlie: You are alive, and you stand up and see the lights on the buildings and everything that makes you wonder. And you’re listening to that song and that drive with the people you love most in this world. And in this moment I swear, we are infinite.

Rating: 8.9/10

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Filed under Drama, Film Adaptation, Indie

Premium Rush (2012)

“I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”

Directed by David Koepp

Just when you thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn’t be more versatile he becomes Lance Armstrong (recent circumstances notwithstanding). David Koepp’s new action/thriller, Premium Rush, is about a young bike messenger named Wilee, who winds up entangled in a conflict surrounding a package he has been charged with delivering. The story involves a dirty cop, a motherless child and an interesting network of personal relationships within the bike messenger community. (Light spoilers)

Wilee: Brakes are death.

Firstly, we are presented with a cliche character in Wilee, whose name gives us an idea of his characteristics. Young guy, scared to death of the grey suits walking up and down Wall Street. He lives fast, and without reservation. These character traits are extended to the way in which Wilee rides his bike (literally, with no breaks).

Michael Shannon as Bobby Monday

The story escalates quickly into a frenzy over a letter Wilee is charged with delivering, and from then on the film become increasingly anachronistic. We are introduced to different parts of the storyline as they become relevant. The story of the dirty cop, Bobby Monday, who gets in deep with the gamblers. The story of Wilee and his girlfriend Vanessa. Ten finally the story of the letter’s sender and Vanessa’s roommate, Nima, whose fate relies on the delivering of the letter to the proper recipient.

The film was paced rather well. Many scenes feature Wilee pausing and determining the best route to go in New York City traffic. In theses moments the directing and cinematography have the feel of a video game, which is something I enjoyed and also found effective, seeing as Koepp seemed to want the viewer to understand Wilee’s intuition, and reliance on adrenaline and instinct.

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Wilee and Dania Ramirez as Vanessa

I was personally impressed with the volume of ethnic actors and actresses in the film. Aside from JGL and Michael Shannon, all primary players were ethnic minorities. This includes X-Men: The Last Stand’s Dania Ramirez, who is Dominicana, as the love interest of the main character, Wilee; Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-American as Wilee’s boss; Black actor Wolé Parks as Manny, the cocky bastard whose role teetered between playful antagonist and reluctant comrade; and finally Korean-American Jamie Chung, who played the women at the center of the controversy. I’d like to take a moment to commend Koepp for the inclusion of such an uncommonly diverse arsenal of actors and actresses. I wish it weren’t so unusual, but credit is due.
When it comes down to the actual story, ultimately, Wilee is the sympathetic character. He wants to live free, and ride uninhibited. And while he suffers an injury because of this ideology, he eventually ties up the loose ends of the story and comes out on top. Even Vanessa, who represented a sort of incentive for Wilee to reconsider his ways, eventually comes around to his way of thinking. There’s even a flashback to the night when Wilee first wins his bike in a raffle of sorts. There is somethings about the presentation that glorifies that night; he gets the bike, and he meets his girl, the only two things he seems to care about. Koepp’s intention to give this way of life an allure is ever present.  While the movie ends with Wilee making some concessions, the take away still seems to be that real freedom is in the choice to live without breaks.

The movie is fun, fast-paced, funny and charming. Everything you can hope to enjoy on a slow Friday night. In terms of reaching its goals, this was a very solid film, and you’ll probably like it as much as I did.

Rating: 8/10

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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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