The Pianist
US Theatrical release poster
Directed byRoman Polanski
Screenplay byRonald Harwood
Based onThe Pianist
by Władysław Szpilman
Produced by
CinematographyPaweł Edelman
Edited byHervé de Luze
Music byWojciech Kilar
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 24 May 2002 (2002-05-24) (Cannes)
  • 6 September 2002 (2002-09-06) (Poland)
  • 25 September 2002 (2002-09-25) (France)
  • 24 October 2002 (2002-10-24) (Germany)
  • 24 January 2003 (2003-01-24) (United Kingdom)
Running time
143 minutes[4]
  • France
  • Germany
  • Poland
  • United Kingdom
  • English
  • German
Budget$35 million[5]
Box office$120.1 million[5]

The Pianist is a 2002 biographical film produced and directed by Roman Polanski, with a script by Ronald Harwood, and starring Adrien Brody.[6] It is based on the autobiographical book The Pianist (1946), a memoir by the Polish-Jewish pianist, composer and Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman.[7] The film was a co-production by France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Poland.

The Pianist premiered at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival on 24 May 2002, where it won the Palme d'Or, and went into wide release that September; the film received widespread critical acclaim, with critics lauding Polanski's direction, Brody's performance and Harwood's screenplay.[8] At the 75th Academy Awards, the film won for Best Director (Polanski), Best Adapted Screenplay (Harwood), and Best Actor (Brody), and was nominated for four others, including Best Picture (it lost to Chicago). It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Film and BAFTA Award for Best Direction in 2003, and seven French Césars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor for Brody.[9] It appeared in BBC's 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century in 2016.


In September 1939, Władysław Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist, is playing live on the radio in Warsaw when the station is besieged during Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland. After escaping the attack, Szpilman rejoices with his family at home when he learns that Britain and France have declared war on Germany, but the promised aid does not come. Fighting lasts for just over a month, with both the German and Soviet armies invading Poland at the same time on different fronts. Warsaw becomes part of the Nazi-controlled General Government. Jews are soon prevented from working or owning businesses, and are also forced to wear blue Star of David armbands.

By November 1940, Szpilman and his family are forced from their home into the isolated and overcrowded Warsaw Ghetto, where conditions only get worse, with food shortages leading to starvation, and the constant threat of Schutzstaffel (SS) brutality. Szpilman manages to find work by performing in a cafè frequently visited by upper-class Jews. On one occasion, he sees a young boy being savagely beaten by a guard while trying to crawl through a gap in the ghetto wall; the boy is dead by the time Szpilman is able to pull him through. On another occasion, Szpilman and his family witness the SS kill a family in an apartment across the street during a round-up, including throwing an elderly wheelchair-bound man from a window three stories high.

On 16 August 1942, Szpilman and his family are about to be transported to Treblinka extermination camp as part of Operation Reinhard; previously they have failed to acquire a work certificate. However, a friend in the Jewish Ghetto Police recognizes Szpilman at the Umschlagplatz and separates him from his family. He later becomes a slave labourer, and learns of a coming Jewish revolt. He helps the resistance by smuggling weapons into the ghetto hidden inside bags of food, on one occasion narrowly avoiding a suspicious guard. Szpilman eventually manages to escape, and goes into hiding with help from a non-Jewish friend, actor Andrzej Bogucki and his wife Janina Godlewska, who provided him an apartment to hide.

In April 1943, Szpilman watches from his window as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which he aided, unfolds, and then ultimately fails. After a neighbor discovers Szpilman and attempts to persecute him, he flees the apartment and meets his old friend Dorota and her husband, who provides him with another hiding place. The new apartment has a piano in it, but he is compelled to keep quiet since the apartment is located in a German area. Szpilman begins to starve and eventually suffers from jaundice after being abandoned by a member of the Polish resistance who previously supplied him food.

By August 1944, Szpilman recovers and the Warsaw Uprising begins. The Home Army attacks the Schutzpolizei building across the street from the apartment, while Szpilman's hideout is destroyed by a German tank shell, forcing him to flee and hide in an abandoned hospital. Over the course of the following months, Warsaw is destroyed.

Upon noticing German troops burning the hospital with flamethrowers, Szpilman escapes and wanders through the ruins. He reaches an empty house where he finds a can of pickled cucumbers. While trying to open the can, Szpilman is discovered by Wehrmacht captain Wilm Hosenfeld, who learns that he is a pianist. He asks Szpilman to play on a grand piano in the house. The decrepit Szpilman manages to play Chopin's "Ballade No. 1 in G minor". Hosenfeld lets him hide in the attic of the house, which is used as his center of operations, and supplies food for him.

In January 1945, the Germans are retreating from the Soviet offensive. Hosenfeld meets Szpilman for the last time, promising he will listen to him on Polish Radio after the war. Hosenfeld leaves Szpilman with a large supply of food and his greatcoat to keep warm. After Warsaw is liberated, Szpilman narrowly survives an ambush by Polish People's Army soldiers who mistook him for a German.

In Spring 1945, surviving concentration camp inmates pass by a Soviet POW camp holding captured German soldiers and verbally abuse them; one lamenting over his former career as a violinist. Hosenfeld, being one of the captives, approaches the violinist and asks if he knows Szpilman which he confirms and he requests Szpilman to rescue him. The violinist later brings Szpilman back to the site but it is abandoned.

After the war, Szpilman resumes his career at the Polish Radio, where he performs Chopin's "Grand Polonaise" with an orchestra to a large prestigious audience. An epilogue notes that Szpilman died in 2000 at the age of 88, whereas Hosenfeld died in Soviet captivity in 1952.



Development and casting

Photograph of Władysław Szpilman

The story had deep connections with director Roman Polanski because he escaped from the Kraków Ghetto as a child after the death of his mother. He ended up living in a Polish farmer's barn until the war's end. His father almost died in the camps, but they reunited after the end of World War II.[10]

Joseph Fiennes was Polanski's first choice for the lead role, but he turned it down due to a previous commitment to a theatrical role.[11] Over 1,400 actors auditioned for the role of Szpilman at a casting call in London, but Polanski was unsatisfied with all who tried. Eventually, Polanski watched Harrison's Flowers (2000), and then Polanski decided to offer Adrien Brody the leading role during their first meeting in Paris.[12][13]


Mała Street in Warsaw's Praga-Północ district used for filming of The Pianist

Principal photography on The Pianist began on 9 February 2001 in Babelsberg Studio in Potsdam, Germany. The Warsaw Ghetto and the surrounding city were recreated on the backlot of Babelsberg Studio as they would have looked during the war. Old Soviet Army barracks were used to create the ruined city, as they were going to be destroyed anyway.[14]

The first scenes of the film were shot at the old army barracks. Soon after, the film crew moved to a villa in Potsdam, which served as the house where Szpilman meets Hosenfeld. On 2 March 2001, filming then moved to an abandoned Soviet military hospital in Beelitz, Germany. The scenes that featured German soldiers destroying a Warsaw hospital with flamethrowers were filmed there. On 15 March, filming finally moved to Babelsberg Studios. The first scene shot at the studio was the complex and technically demanding scene in which Szpilman witnesses the ghetto uprising.[14]

Filming at the studios ended on 26 March, and moved to Warsaw on 29 March. The rundown district of Praga was chosen for filming because of its abundance of original buildings. The art department built onto these original buildings, re-creating World War II-era Poland with signs and posters from the period. Additional filming also took place around Warsaw. The Umschlagplatz scene where Szpilman, his family, and hundreds of other Jews wait to be taken to the extermination camps was filmed at the National Defence University of Warsaw.[15]

Principal photography ended in July 2001, and was followed by months of post-production in Paris.[13]


Further information: The Pianist (soundtrack)


Critical response

The Pianist was widely acclaimed by critics, with Brody's performance, Harwood's screenplay, and Polanski's direction receiving special praise. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 95% based on 185 reviews, with an average rating of 8.20/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Well-acted and dramatically moving, The Pianist is Polanski's best work in years."[17] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 85 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".[18]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three and a half stars out of four, noting that, "perhaps that impassive quality reflects what [director Roman] Polanski wants to say. ... By showing Szpilman as a survivor, but not a fighter or a hero—as a man who does all he can to save himself, but would have died without enormous good luck and the kindness of a few non-Jews—Polanski is reflecting ... his own deepest feelings: that he survived, but need not have, and that his mother died and left a wound that had never healed."[19]

Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune said that the film "is the best dramatic feature I've seen on the Holocaust experience, so powerful a statement on war, inhumanity, and art's redemption that it may signal Polanski's artistic redemption". He later said that the film "illustrates that theme and proves that Polanski's own art has survived the chaos of his life—and the hell that war and bigotry once made of it".[20]

Richard Schickel of Time magazine called it a "raw, unblinkable film", and said that, "We admire this film for its harsh objectivity and refusal to seek our tears, our sympathies."[21]

Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said that the film "contains moments of irony, of ambiguity, and of strange beauty, as when we finally get a look at Warsaw and see a panorama of destruction, a world of color bombed into black-and-white devastation". He also said that, "In the course of showing us a struggle for survival, in all its animal simplicity, Polanski also gives us humanity, in all its complexity."[22]

A.O. Scott of The New York Times said that Szpilman "comes to resemble one of Samuel Beckett's gaunt existential clowns, shambling through a barren, bombed-out landscape clutching a jar of pickles. He is like the walking punchline to a cosmic jest of unfathomable cruelty." He also felt that "Szpilman's encounter, in the war's last days, with a music-loving German officer, "courted sentimentality by associating the love of art with moral decency, an equation the Nazis themselves, steeped in Beethoven and Wagner, definitively refuted".[23]


Main article: List of accolades received by The Pianist

Home media

The Pianist was released by Universal Studios Home Entertainment on DVD in the US on 27 May 2003 in a double-sided disc Special Edition, with the film on one side and the featurette "A Story of Survival" on the other. The making-of featurette included interviews with Brody, Polanski, and Harwood, and clips of Szpilman playing the piano.[24] The Polish DVD included an audio commentary track by production designer Starski and director of photography Edelman.

Universal released the film on HD-DVD on 8 January 2008 with the featurette "A Story of Survival".[25]

Optimum Home Entertainment released The Pianist to the European market on Blu-ray as part of their StudioCanal Collection on 13 September 2010,[26] the film's second release on Blu-ray. The first release was troublesome due to issues with subtitles; the initial BD lacked subtitles for spoken German dialogue. Optimum later rectified this,[27] but the initial release also lacked notable special features. The StudioCanal Collection version includes the featurette "A Story of Survival", as well as several interviews with the makers of the film and Szpilman's relatives.[28]

Shout Factory released the film on Blu-Ray in the US for the first time on 13 July 2021.[29]

The film was completely restored in 2023 from the original negative by StudioCanal and DI Factory, with the assistance of the film's cinematographer Pawel Edelman.[30] It was released on 4K UHD by StudioCanal in Germany on 21 September 2023, in France on 27 September 2023 and in the UK on 2 October 2023.

See also


  1. ^ a b "The Pianist (2001)". UniFrance. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  2. ^ Blaney, Martin (29 November 2002). "Germany's Tobis breaks away from StudioCanal". Screen International. Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  3. ^ a b "Film #18808: The Pianist". Lumiere. Retrieved 10 May 2021.
  4. ^ a b "THE PIANIST (15)". British Board of Film Classification. 3 July 2002. Retrieved 24 October 2023.
  5. ^ a b "The Pianist". Box Office Mojo. 2002. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  6. ^ Hare, William (2004). LA Noir: Nine Dark Visions of the City of Angels. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland and Company. p. 207. ISBN 0-7864-1801-X.
  7. ^ Szpilman, Wladyslaw. "The Pianist". Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  8. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Pianist". Retrieved 25 October 2009.
  9. ^ "Official Site - The Pianist - Awards & Nominations". FocusFeatures. Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  10. ^ "Roman Raymond Polański". Retrieved 21 August 2016.
  11. ^ "Xan Brooks talks to Joseph Fiennes about Hollywood and the theatre". 21 September 2005. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  12. ^ "Adrien Brody on Winning the Oscar, Catching a Train with Wes Anderson, and Making Music With Popcorn". Variety. 8 December 2023. Retrieved 8 December 2023.
  13. ^ a b "The Pianist - Movie by Roman Polanski". Archived from the original on 16 June 2011.
  14. ^ a b "Anatomy of a masterpiece". 8 May 2010. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  15. ^ "In the ghetto with Polanski". 22 June 2001. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  16. ^ "A review of music from the motion picture The Pianist". August 2003. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  17. ^ "The Pianist (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 22 April 2022.
  18. ^ "The Pianist reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  19. ^ Ebert, Roger (3 January 2003). "The Pianist". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 23 December 2012.
  20. ^ Wilmington, Michael (5 January 2003). "Polanski's 'Pianist' may put 'profligate dwarf' in better light". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  21. ^ Schickel, Richard (15 December 2002). "Have a Very Leo Noel". Time. p. 4. Archived from the original on 29 March 2007. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  22. ^ LaSalle, Mick (3 January 2003). "Masterpiece / Polanski's 'The Pianist' is a true account of one man's survival in the Warsaw ghetto". San Francisco Chronicle. Hearst Communications. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  23. ^ Scott, A.O. (27 December 2002). "Surviving the Warsaw Ghetto Against Steep Odds". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 November 2012.
  24. ^ "The Pianist- Amazon". Amazon. 27 May 2003. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  25. ^ "The Pianist- High def digest". Retrieved 4 September 2016.
  26. ^ "StudioCanal Collection". Retrieved 24 June 2010.
  27. ^ "Problems with initial BD release". Retrieved 1 August 2010.
  28. ^ "The Pianist on BD". Retrieved 1 August 2010.
  29. ^
  30. ^
Awards Preceded byAmélie Goya Award for Best European Film 2002 Succeeded byGood Bye Lenin!