In Darkness – Movie Review 2

A nail biting triumph from the lethal streets of Nazi occupied Lvov through the sub-human underground of the city and back into the world of the living.

Award winning Polish actor Robert Wieckiewicz plays Leopold Socha in this nail-biting narrative of personal sacrifice and redemption. Poland’s official selection for the US Oscars, Agnieszka Holland’s epic has been short listed for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Based on a true story, the place is Nazi occupied Lvov, Poland in 1943. While the people of Lvov turn their backs on the persecuted Jews the Nazis march from house to house shooting and beating people to death. The survivors go to the death camps. Socha is a down and dirty sewer maintenance worker who grew up in the tough streets of depression Europe.

He knows how to take care of number one and he cares about nothing else. One day he stumbles on a group of Jews desperately trying to escape the latest pogrom by hiding in the sewers and an idea is born. The Jews have money and they have the right idea. However, without Socha’s photographic memory of the pitch black and potentially lethal sewer system, they do not stand a chance.

The penalty for hiding Jews is the most hideous death imaginable. The lucky ones die quickly, in front of a firing squad or on the street in front of a luger. The less fortunate watch their families being tortured to death while they are interrogated for the locations of other escapees. For the non-Jews it is a good life in Lvov.

The majority middle class laughs and struts on the streets wearing the finest clothes and stealing what they wish from the dispossessed. Socha has the additional, priceless, advantage of having a childhood chum working directly for the SS. With Bortnik (Michal Zurawski) watching his back all he has to do is play along, turn in a few people now and then and he will live the good life.

Instead he convinces his partner to help him play both ends against the middle. He can stay in good with the vicious turncoat Bortnik and collect huge sums of money from the desperate Jews at the same time. He offers to cover the sewers for Bortnik’s troops both as a way of keeping the soldiers out of the sewers and allaying his suspicion. Socha will hide in plain sight while being in daily contact with the SS and with those they are sworn to eradicate.

His first task is to convince the Jews he wants to help them before they kill him to keep him quiet. The fugitives are a mixed lot and their de facto leader is a conman and small time hoodlum himself. Mundek Margulies (acclaimed German actor Benno Fürmann) wants to kill Socha, hide his body, and be done with it. The better educated, and wealthier, members of the group convince him otherwise.

They believe what Socha is telling them, without his guidance they do not stand a chance. Mundek falls in love with the volatile Klara who spends as much time fighting her family and friends and she spends hating the Nazis. When her unstable sister is captured by the Nazis and sent to a slow death in the camp, Mundek has to make a decision that will spell redemption or doom.

At the same time, Bortnik is turning up the heat on Socha and Socha’s wife (Kinga Preis) is panicked to learn that Socha’s business threatens them both, as well as their friends and family.

Directed by Agnieszka Holland and written by David F. Shamoon based on the book by Robert Marshall, “In Darkness” is a thoroughly excellent piece of work. The re-creation of the sewers is perfect, thanks to a complete reconstruction of the brickwork, water flows and various levels, pools, ledges and manholes. The costumes are also true to the time and place.

As the story progresses, the clothes, faces and skins of the actors show the filth and stress of the fourteen months they hid underground, deprived of fresh air, sunlight and even minimal nutrition. This is a beautiful story of self-sacrifice and redemption in a time and place where civilization has been thrown by the wayside. It is also as amazing story of human endurance and perseverance.

Although Wieckiewicz and Fürmann do most of the heavy lifting, there are a dozen performances that are key in telling this story and every one of them is pitch perfect. This is testimony to the outstanding direction of Holland. Holland is a previous nominee for Oscar, Emmy and Venice Film Festival awards.

“In Darkness” was nominated for the Critic’s Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film. From start to finish this film takes the viewer from the lethal streets of Nazi occupied Lvov through the sub-human underground of the city and back into the world of the living. A thoroughly entertaining film.

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Directed by: Agnieszka Holland
Written By: Robert Marshall (book), David F. Shamoon
Starring: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann and Agnieszka Grochowska
Release Date: February 10, 2012
MPAA: Rated R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality, nudity and language
Running Time: 143 Minutes
Country: Poland / Germany / France / Canada
Language: Polish / Ukrainian / Yiddish / German
Color: Color