The Pianist, Roman Polanski’s highly personal film about a musician who survives the Holocaust, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. The film stars Adrien Brody as a brilliant Polish pianist who manages to escape the Warsaw ghetto and is finally saved by a German officer. As boy in Poland, Polanski himself survived the Krakow ghetto but lost his mother at Auschwitz. In a year of especially high-quality films, second place, or the grand prize, went to The Man Without a Past by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki, a whimsical tale of an amnesia victim who rediscovers life and love in the slums of Helsinki.
Polanski, 68, was born in France but moved to Poland with his parents two years before the outbreak of World War II. He says he always knew he would return to Poland to make a Holocaust film, but was waiting for the right story. He found it in the memoirs of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman.
Although the film was not his own story, Polanski says he used a host of personal memories to fill in the blanks, for everything from the size of ghetto crowds to the way Nazi troops walked and what they wore.
“I’m honored and moved to accept this prize for a film that represents Poland,” Polanski said, as his star, Brody, wiped away tears in the audience.