The Bayley Film Club: Roman Polański

This week’s director is a real treat for me, as both of the movies are set in Poland and I am being more homesick lately than ever before! Say hi, to week 5! #thebayleyfilmclub


Director: Roman Polański

Film 1: The Pianist

Film 2: Knife in the Water


The Pianist

Author: Agsy E Drapinska

Anticipation: 4
Enjoyment: 4
Retrospect: 5

Score: 13

For me, as a Pole, ‘The Pianist’ is not just another historic film. It is a story that moves me deeply and carries a lot of meaning. A story that is so easily interpreted and beautiful that it becomes personal. Roman Polański finds a balance between the hard to watch extermination of Jews during WW2 and the delicate beauty of music. The story follows the life of Władysław Szpilman during his years in German-occupied  Warsaw. The story of severe pain, hunger, unimaginable suffering, and lack of humanity. But here and there the film provides crumbs of hope and sheer luck.

The music in the film includes the best works of great pianists; starting with Chopin, through Beethoven and Bach. In addition, original pieces were composed by Wojciech Kilar (internationally recognized Polish classical and film music composer). There is no doubt that those brilliant pieces and the love of music helped Mr. Szpilman get through the horrors of war and saved him from losing sanity. 

This was the third time I have watched ‘The Pianist’ and I always look forward to it. The important message I take out of it is that we should never generalize people. Not all Germans during the war were cruel sadists or ruthless killers and not all Poles were good Christians who would give up their last piece of bread to share with another. In the film, we witness many characters that represent the opposite of their stereotype. Two of them worth mentioning include:

  • a young polish man, who gathered funds in the name of Władysław Szpilman all around the city. The cause of a famous pianist being ‘unfortunate’ to be a Jew made the hearts (and pockets) of Warsaw aristocracy grow, but the money wasn’t used to buy food for Władysław, instead, the young bloke was using it to buy booze and enjoy himself leaving Szpilman starving. 
  • A German officer (Wilm Hosenfeld) who found Władysław in hiding among the ruins of Warsaw. First of all, didn’t kill him, second of all arranged a German command center in the same building so that he could bring him food without raising suspicion – because the darkest place is under the candlestick. Third, gave him his own coat when he was leaving as the Russians were approaching from the other side of the Vistula river. 

‘The Pianist’ is a true story and with it, Roman Polański proves that the best scenarios are written by life.

Knife in the Water

Author: Agsy E Drapinska

Anticipation: 5
Enjoyment: 5
Retrospect: 3


Minimalism is something I always admire in cinematography. ‘Knife in the Water’ goes even a bit further, I would even call it ‘raw’. Still, the film is not boring at all, it’s not even simple. Roman Polański stripped the story of many unnecessary parts so that we could focus on what was meant to be important:

  • characters – only three people involved, 
  • story – evolving around relationships between those characters,
  • scenery & time – most of the action takes place on a boat and during one day,
  • colors – the film is black and white (1962).

The growing tension between two men and a woman becomes the center of gravity in the film. Their flaws and differences in opinions and lifestyles are gradually being revealed throughout the picture. Without questioning and judging the story first evolves and then wraps up quite surprisingly and when I think about it now – everybody gets what they deserve. All of this accompanied by beautifully shot scenes of sailing in one of the prettiest parts of Poland – Mazury.


The Pianist

Author: N A Tonge

Anticipation: 4
Enjoyment: 4
Retrospect: 4

Score: 12

The Palme d’Or award-winning ‘The Pianist’ is a Holocaust movie set in Warsaw following the wartime years of the true-life pianist Władysław Szpilman. 

Being the first Roman Polański film I have seen, I gave it a 4 for anticipation. It definitely lived up to the excitement, as reflected in my scores relating to enjoyment and retrospect. A second viewing will be a must, but not too soon. 

‘The Pianist’ illustrates the tragic subject matter with a searing seriousness. The scale of the battered Warsaw landscape is superbly reconstructed through shoot location and digital effects. Adrien Brody plays Szpilman, a talented Jewish middle-class pianist, who along with his family is uprooted to a Jewish Ghetto following the Nazi invasion of Warsaw, in 1939. Szpilman had previously been a regular performer on Polish Radio, however, his musical talents were now confined to dinner crowds set up in the Ghetto. A friend offers Szpilman and his brother a place in the Jewish Police; a position that would have all but guaranteed their safety, however, they refuse.
During the time spent following Szpilman in the Ghetto, the violence and humiliation delivered by the German soldiers are heart-wrenching, often portrayed by brutal punishment to the more vulnerable residents. Szpilman witnesses a young boy beaten to death and, with his family, watches German Soldiers throw an elderly man from his wheelchair to the street from a rooftop apartment, then proceeding to shoot and kill the rest of his family. The systematic murder continues, death is everywhere, however, survival is the priority. 

Szpilman’s family is forced on to trains headed for a concentration camp, however, he is spared and forced back into the crumbling city, having to undertake hard manual labor under the watchful eye of Nazi occupiers, whilst helping to plan the Warsaw uprising and suffering crippling guilt that he is the most probably the only surviving member of his family. 

Szpilman is desperate to survive and escape. He avoids the concentration camp and spends the rest of the war in safe houses, floating between surviving and starving to death. He watches the uprising from his window, but remains passive throughout the fighting, further adding to the uselessness of his situation.

Szpilman is found wandering a deserted house by a German Officer, but his performance of Chopin’s Ballade No 1 in G minor encourages the Officer to help him and his musical talents survive. This element of ‘The Pianist’ allows the devastation taking place around the two to stop in time, and highlights the absolutely unnecessary genocide. Previous reading and conversations with the ancestors of those involved with the barbarity dished out by the Nazis, suggest this is still an uncomfortable subject in German society. The performance seems to provide the German Officer with a sudden clearness of mind, and Szpilman survives the war following the arrival of Russian forces. ‘The Pianist’ is a harrowing, yet thought-provoking and moving film – an absolute must. 

Knife in the Water

Author: N A Tonge

Anticipation: 3
Enjoyment: 3
Retrospect: 4

Score: 10

In ‘Knife in the Water, Roman Polański’s 1962 debut picture, an ill-tempered, alpha-male, and his attractive younger wife pick up a young student hitchhiker on their way to a weekend on the lake. 

The film is simple, yet effective, shot almost entirely in on the yacht. Despite his wife’s disapproval, the older of the two men proceeds to boss the other around and mock him for his apparent unmanliness. Tensions rise as the two men compete for the woman’s approval.

The trio move below deck due to a storm. The older man listens to a boxing match on the radio, whilst his wife playfully flirts with the younger man, reciting poetry and song to one another. The older man does not even entertain the possibility that this ‘bum’ could even dream of seducing his young wife, however during a fistfight, where he knocks the younger man into the water, his sure front falls and he swims to the shore in a panic, leaving his wife alone on the yacht, with the understanding that he has just killed a man. In fact, he has not, and his wife has an affair with the young man once he emerges from the water. Nevertheless, she warns him that he too will end up exactly like her husband: pig-headed and ultimately, selfish.

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