The Pianist Film Techniques Essay Definition

The Pianist Essay

The Pianist

Thunder roars all around. Black clouds veil a dying sun. Yet, the storm is not falling from above but raging from below. The thunder is the cracking of gunfire and the clouds, smoke rising from the rubble of what once was. With the roar of a lion, planes, looking like angels in the heavens, drop death upon a city. The buildings that were homes are now corpses, stripped of their flesh and left gaping. With the earth erupting in hatred, Wladyslaw Szpilman sits upright and continues to play Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor. The bombs rain unrelentingly. Everyone runs, except for Szpilman, who is still behind the ivory keys, until a bomb falls upon his office and rips a hole through the walls. Now Szpilman picks up his hat and walks away from his passion. Not disturbed by the blood dripping from his forehead, he calmly smiles as he exits the building.

This moment was the first encounter Wladylsaw Szpilman had with the Second World War. It was just the beginning of a terrible tragedy that unfolded for Szpilman. The movie The Pianist is a depiction of this tragedy. At its very core, the movie is a tale of survival. As the German forces systematically eliminated his home, his possessions, even his family, Wladyslaw Szpilman had a force inside of him that kept him going. The Pianist follows Szpilman's journey, showing his love for the music pulling him through the horror of times. And it was this love that kept him going for the near half decade he spent living hell.

Through a Window

Back to Poland, 1939: a small boy roamed around the Umschlagplatz, an assembly area for the Jews before they were loaded onto cattle cars toward certain death. He was all alone, his mother murdered, his father taken away. The stench of death caught his throat. Finally, he made it through the sea of people packed into this Umschlagplatz. Between him and his life, there stood a German soldier. Courageously, the boy approached the soldier and asked if he could go home to fetch a loaf of bread. The soldier looked down upon this child and nodded. The only thing this soldier told Roman Polanski was "Don't run." ("Story of Survival")

Sixty years later, Roman Polanski was finally able to recreate those terrible memories that haunted him and show the world an un-softened portrayal of what happened back then. He found it too difficult to tell his own story; the memories cut too deeply into his heart for him to relive them exactly. "For years [Polanski] searched for someone else's [story] to adapt" (Thomas). A decade earlier he was offered the position to direct "Schindler's List," "but turned down the offer to direct it because it was set in Krakow" (Thomas).

There is quite a difference between this movie and previous movies about World War II. For one, the movie is very quiet. For a large portion of the movie, Szpilman is alone in the world. On occasion someone drops by to deliver food but for the most part dialogue is nonexistent. The larger...

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Introduction

This analysis of The Pianist (Roman Polanski, 2002) will argue that the use of realism through each of the technical codes of style enhances the expressions of the text in its predominant realistic settings consistent with the era in which the story takes place. It will also assess the ways in which these technical codes interact to create its desired effect.

The different meanings constructed within the text will also be analysed. Each code will consist of justifications for each point and examples will be given to provide evidence of each constructed meaning. At the conclusion of the discussion, after each technical code has been analysed, a conclusion will be drawn upon to combine each code into one and to dissect these and then to combine them back together to create the overall stylistic expression of the text, which will be considered as ‘sombre realism’.

Mise en Scene

The Mise en Scene in the 2002 film The Pianist, works around a realistic perception of stylization which is seen throughout the film. The use of dull colours to emphasize the depressive feeling of the characters is highlighted with their costume, set decoration as well as the buildings around them. The text is set in the early 1940’s period of World War II and every part of the mise en scene has been carefully created to conform with this era in order to make it seem realistic.

Natural soft lighting is used throughout the text, and it is only used in scenes out of the Jewish Ghetto. For example, an interior scene within the apartment of one of the protagonists’ friends who is trying to help him shows very bright natural light to create a binary opposition between the world of the main character, and that of the Polish people who are considered much more contented. This use of three point lighting reflects both worlds in very different ways. Inside the Ghetto, very little lighting is used, and many grey and brown shades of colour are used together with the lack of lighting to create the necessary sensitivity to evoke the emotions of hopelessness and despair.

Make up and costume also plays an imperative part in establishing the realism of the text. At the commencement of the film each character is considered well groomed and looking in good health, all with costume consistent with that of the pre-war period. Also, it would be near impossible to tell the difference between a Jew and a Pole. However, as the text progresses, the health and look of the Jewish people living inside the Ghetto decreases, this is made very relevant considering the ways in which they are living. All of this culminates in the end, after the protagonist has made it so far to reach the end of the war, albeit looking much discarded; he manages to borrow a German officer’s coat to keep him warm. This proves to be a bad idea when the Polish police begin shooting at him, thinking he is a German. This creates an ironic stylized effect which is unknown throughout the previous sections of the text.

As noted before, realism plays a very important part in such a film set in such a time. The acting styles within this text also reflect that fact. A very serious undertone is used throughout, with very little humour to set the sombre undertones that is needed to in effect echo within the text. The use of language code between characters throughout the text is somewhat inconsistent, to also evoke the realism of the time. For example, German officers only speak German throughout the text, whether this is speaking to other officer’s or the Jews themselves. The Jew’s on the other hand speak English consistently, while speaking German and Hebrew sporadically at certain times throughout the text while communicating with other characters.

Cinematography

The cinematography in The Pianist is effective in creating the desired depressive war time effects all throughout the film. The camera is efficient in drawing attention to the very small important details that the mise en scene puts out there in front of the camera. For example, character expressions are very important in such a film to evoke all of the necessary emotions to the audience. With the use of low angle to medium shots, the camera is used to take the characters out of the picture and into the minds of the audience.

Swift camera movements and extreme close ups throughout the war action scenes assist in making the conflict a lot more realistic and believable. This emphasises the nature of the conflict making it appealing and showing the true nature of war. On the exterior scenes of the wall, the camera movements are much more steady and stable, tracking down characters along the footpath. For example, at one stage while the protagonist is walking down the path at night time in an attempt not to be seen, a consistent frame image is created with the camera to induce the feeling that the character does not want to be seen, and certainly not caught.

Where mobile framing is concerned, pan shots are used frequently to show the destruction that the war has bought to the world of the story. These pan shots are used at various stages throughout the text, each time bringing a different meaning to the story to create the feeling of realism. Within these pan shots, shots of long duration are used in combination with the music (which will be discussed later in depth) to steady the motion of the forthcoming story.

Editing

The continuity editing system is used throughout most of The Pianist, this making for greater realism and allowing the story world to speak for itself. However, at selected parts the montage editing system is used. In these sections, they are combined each time with musical score to show the expressions of the Jewish people as they are being relocated, usually between Ghettos. This editing system places a greater emphasis on the relationships between shots and the graphic, rhythmic, spatial and temporal possibilities of these relationships, and the way they affect the story world within the text.

Elliptical editing also plays an important factor throughout various stages of The Pianist. An ellipsis is created at selected stages to move the story onward in less screen time. For example, this can be seen a lot more in the earlier stages of the film, particularly when new policies are coming in from the German government to the Jewish people such as when they have to wear their arm bands. These elliptical instances are much more frequent in the early stages, while the beginnings of the war are coming into plan and everyone is being affected by them.

Sound

Diegetic sound plays a very important role from the outset in establishing each and every emotion in The Pianist. With the use of the piano as a recurring motif throughout the film in order to express the feeling of the people around him, as well as the feelings inside himself, the protagonist uses diegesis to exemplify the feelings of everyone in the story world to the audience.

Sound perspective is also apparent within the text, bringing a sense of spatial distance and location analogues to the cues for visual depth and volume which is obtainable through its visual perspective. Together with this, it becomes clear that non-diegetic sound is also very influential in realising the expressional realism throughout the film. The dynamics of the score are very consistent the entire way through, and the sound of the piano music becomes almost expected during scenes of despair for the characters involved. Non-diegetic sound is very significant in this way, especially during long establishing shots of landscape showing the destruction that the war has bought to the characters involved in the world of the story.

While the haunting sound of the piano is notable throughout most of the text, there are also stages in the film whereby other sources of sound can be heard. For example, when the Jews have first moved to the Ghetto, a group of them are made to dance on the side of the road by the German officers. Cheerful diegetic music is made to be played by the band as the Jews who are in fear of being shot dance around with each other, at the amusement of the German guards. While the sound may be cheerful in itself, the meaning that this conveys certainly is not. The expressive meaning here is that the sound is being used to sarcastically make the Jewish dancers feel even more worthless, and in turn make others laugh at them.

Conclusion

This analysis of The Pianist has discussed the ways in which each of the technical codes of film style affects the meanings that the text itself conveys to the audience. Mise en scene commented on the all important aspect of realism and the ways that costume, make up and setting all combine together to influence the war-time period setting. This section also highlighted that the lighting (or sometimes lack of) influenced the feelings of the people involved in the story world.

The section on cinematography furthermore noted the aspects of shot duration with special consideration to the ways in which the camera takes the characters expressive emotions and gives them to the audience. Editing discussed the systematic use of the types of editing used in the text, while highlighting on the important aspect on the way elliptical editing uses time as a method of conveying a meaning. Lastly, sound emphasised the impact of the motif piano throughout the text, both as a signifier as well as a source of diegetic sound. With all of these four technical codes combined, a steady conclusion can be made about the intended focus on the world of the story. Firstly, the impact on realism is obviously a key factor in determining the emotive instances of the text. This is where mise en scene, cinematography, editing and sound all come together to reactively produce realism. Also, the benefits that sound has upon the text, releasing the feeling from the protagonist, has an everlasting effect that embroils the four technical codes together to produce its required result.

Sources Used

Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristen (2005) Film Art: An Introduction, Seventh Edition. New York: McGraw Hill.

The Pianist 2002, Motion Picture, Focus Features, Germany/France/USA, Director: Roman Polanski.

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