In Darkness - Life On The Brink Of Death

                         Director Agnieszka Holland's 'In Darkness' is a a moving Holocaust saga based on a true story, which speaks about the humankind's capacity to endure, to fight on in the face of terrible cruelty. The memory of the Holocaust and the terror caused by Third Reich still cast dark shadows upon our consciousness. While we are held with attention to remember the dimensions of indifference and hatred which characterized this period of history, we are also challenged to be aware of the heroism of those who risked their own safety in order to save Jews in Europe. The movie 'In Darkness' presents one of those heroes named Leopold Socha, a working-class Roman Catholic who looked after a group of Jews living in sewers.

                       You might say, another story of the saintly non-Jews saving the Jew during the Holocaust. How many editions on "Schindler's List" do we need? That query has no real answer, of course, but if the stories are as well-told and moving as Holland's film, one might say: at least one more. It is a fitting addition  to the group of films fighting with complicity, opportunism and resistance in the face of genocidal madness.

         Based on the book, In sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall, the film offers a arduous account of the true story of a group of Jews who spent 14 months living in a rat-infested underground sewer. They are flawed and afraid ordinary citizens -- not heroes. Coerced from the ghettos as the Nazis lined up Jews for the work camps, and the death camps, they fled to the sewers instead. This movie also tells the story of a city sewer worker, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz).

            He also operates as a scavenger to provide for his wife and daughter, and because he likes the thrill of the hunt, he and his accomplice, Szczepek (Krzysztof Skonieczny) loot the abandoned buildings of Jews. A catholic himself, Socha is hardly a Jewish sympathizer. Bortnik, a friend and a high-rank, greedy Ukrainian Officer, promises him a better life, if he finds and arrests Jews hiding in the sewers. When the ghettos are being liquidated by Nazis, Socha sees opportunity in tragedy.

             Socha and Szczepek, knowing that Jews are hiding in the sewers, decides not to turn them in. Instead, they charge a group a weekly fee to harbor them and bring them food and supplies while keeping their whereabouts quiet. But as he comes to know them, playing with the children, Socha creates a genuine bond with the people who were paying him for safety.

                 Director Holland makes a dual reality: that above ground and that below, in the rat-infested sewers. The Jews in the sewers make moving attempts at a normal life in the darkness, which is like an alternate universe. Affairs take place, child is born, and of course, many people die, in such horrific ways. Under her direction film is structured intelligently and measures out the horror in pragmatic amounts. She should also be appreciated for creating and sustaining an ambiance of suspicion, fear and paranoia, as no one, Jew or Gentile can be trusted—or taken for granted.

               Shooting out in confined spaces, Holland elicits taut performances from a strong cast. Wieckiewicz as Socha is outstanding, his face expressing a full range of emotions, often within the same scene. Is he a good man? Or is he a greedy man moved to do good things? the movie suggests both. The script by David F. Shamoon has its share of hackish melodrama (especially the subplot that features a Ukrainian jail-mate of Socha’s), but the pacing is great. The screenwriter's decision to tease you with the prospect of Socha giving up his charges makes good dramatic (if not ethical) sense, and Wieckiewicz is wonderful to watch.

                In Darkness delivers a believable scenario about the effects of desperate times upon the human psyche, and it also shows how base human instinct can nevertheless be elevated. It’s a very mundane-type movie where you don’t have as many of the big dramatic moments or character revelations. Most of the Holocaust movies arrive at a point of unspeakable, incomprehensible horror. These instants force us to ask questions about ourselves, our existence, about the nature of man and the nature of God - or if there is a God at all. The movie, In Darkness asks these questions and gets both troubling and inspiring answers. 

               "In Darkness" is apparently tough to watch, it is both unforgiving and relentlessly human. But, again imagine how hard it was to live, and face it.


In Darkness - IMDb 

Agnieszka Holland -- 

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