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‘The Pianist’ plays out as Polanski pic

Book strikes personal note for helmer

PARIS — Roman Polanski, in partnership with French producer Robert Benmussa, has acquired film rights to Wladyslaw Szpilman’s autobiographical bestseller “The Pianist.”

The book details musician Szpilman’s survival in Warsaw between 1939 and 1945 and was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as the “best nonfiction of 1999.”

Polanski is set to adapt and direct the pic, with Paris-based Studio Canal Plus financing the development and co-producing.

Speaking to Daily Variety, Polanski said “I really want to start shooting in Poland in December.” Although he has yet to attack the script, Polanski estimates the budget will be around $20 million.

For Polanski, “Pianist” has echoes of his own youth in Poland’s war-torn Krakow.

“For many years I have been encouraged to find a project that relates to my personal history but, until ‘The Pianist,’ I have never read a piece so moving that I felt I had to bring it to the screen and, in doing so, face again that nightmarish period.”

This isn’t the first time Polanski has contemplated making a film about one of history’s most terrifying stories. “I was approached to direct ‘Schindler’s List,’ but it was just too close to home.”

“The Pianist” comes on the heels of Polanski’s Johnny Depp starrer “The Ninth Gate,” which has already grossed $25 million in Europe. It opens March 17 in the U.S.

Polanski’s stage production of “Vampires” is about to transfer from Vienna to Stuttgart, having been seen by more than 1 million theatergoers. Before setting pen to paper on “Pianist,” Polanski is set to spend a month tweaking “Vampires” for the Stuttgart launch.

Meanwhile, he has been racking up industry plaudits. The European Film Academy gave him a 1999 European Achievement Award, and late last year he became a member of France’s illustrious Academie des Beaux Arts.

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