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CANNES 2002 Competition

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Reflections on Hollywood


- France, Poland, Germany, and Great Britain co-produced Roman Polanski's The Pianist

When you read the credits of «The Pianist», which was presented at the Palais on May 24, it may cross your mind that the Festival wanted not only to honor a great director like Polanski, but emphasize the European flavor of this manifestation as well. «The Pianist», in fact, is the product of a collaboration between four European nations: France, Poland, Germany, and Great Britain. If any film has a right to consider itself European, «The Pianist» is it. Not only for the extraordinary creative effort that involved four European nations, but also for the issue that it deals with: the Holocaust as it was lived by a Jewish pianist from Warsaw, who miraculously escaped death thanks to a German officer´s passion for music; a pianist who actually existed and who eventually documented his experience in a book in which the Jewish Polanski, who had also survived a somewhat similar experience at the age of ten, found much to identify with.
And yet, after only the first few minutes of this film, immediately following some black and white images from an old Polish documentary that illustrate life in Warsaw in 1939, before the German invasion, the viewer has the sensation of being dropped into a sort of typically Hollywood-style portrayal of these events. It reminds the viewer of Hollywood during the 1960´s, when Runaway Production dominated the scene: the Polish Jews speak to each other in perfect English; the photography, even though done by the Polish Wojciech Kilar, recalls the polished finish typical of American films from that time. More than Spielberg´s «Schindler´s List», one is reminded of «Doctor Zhivago» by David Lean, produced by Carlo Ponti with Metro Goldwin Mayer.
And yet this is a film about memories. Is it possible that Polanski´s European imprinting, born of «Europe´s blood», has been washed over with the colors of Hollywood´s palette? It is true that Polish directors have a more cosmopolitan expressive idiom unknown to other European colleagues either in the East or the West. Films by Wajda, Skolimowski, Borowczyk, Zanussi, and Kawalerowicz are examples that demonstrate that this approach is limited to the European continent. The only exception was probably Munk, who died too soon to be able to smudge these lines between Eastern and Western Europe with his own particular nuance. However, Polanski is different, Polanski is also the director of «Chinatown», one of the great Hollywood films of the 1970´s. If he isn´t working in Hollywood now, it´s because of his own personal issues. I met Polanski in Venice in 1997, where he was the President of the jury where I was also serving. Some of the most memorable films competing then were The Funeral by Abel Ferrara, Briganti by Ioseliani, and Profundo Carmesi by Ripstein. Polanski imposed his indisputable authority to award «Michael Collins» by Neil Jordan, an Irish film that also brandished the Warner Brothers trademark on a cultural level. His principal argument was its extraordinary workmanship. «Michael Collins»: another retrospective film. Perfection is Polanski´s obsession. This becomes obvious in «The Pianist» in the impressive digitalization of the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. But this is perfectionism that has found its perfection (pardon the play on words) in the Hollywood mentality.
During the jury´s final session, I attempted to defend Capuano´s «Pianese Nunzio», which was a film that went absolutely against Polanski´s tastes. I though I could perhaps impress him if I invented a musical paragon. «Let´s say it´s a film inspired by Schoenberg´s twelve-tone system.» But Polanski almost whined back at me, «But I like Mozart.»

(Translated from Italian)

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