In Darkness - Review
Review by Louise Carleton
HOLOCAUST movies are not a new phenomena, one could say they are almost a genre in their own right.
In recent years there has been an influx of films and literature exploring this blackspot on humanity, so much so that it would appear everything that can be said has been done so before.
But the question still remains – how do you capture such a difficult and sensitive subject, whilst staying true to the victims without bordering on the obscene or ludicrous?
Agnieska Holland does a worthy job with her latest film In Darkness set in the war torn town of Lvov (now Lviv in the Ukraine). Similar to popular Holocaust films such as Schindler’s List and The Pianist, Holland contrasts harrowing scenes of mass suffering (such as the liquidation of the ghetto) with the pain and turmoil of an individual allowing us a glimpse into the mindset and psychology of those who were forced to hide and those who bravely helped them.
The plot centres on the unlikely hero, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), an overweight pock- faced sewer worker, who is first introduced to the audience breaking into a large house and stripping it of any valuables with his young accomplice and fellow worker Szczepek (Krzystof Skonieczny).
However, when Socha discovers a group of Jews cowering in the sewers things change dramatically. Spotting a unique business opportunity he decides to keep their location secret and provide them provisions in exchange for money.
Yet when their money inevitably runs out Socha continues to provide and help, despite the dangerous consequences his actions could have to him and his family.
This is made all the more unnerving when an old prison friend of Socha’s, a member of the Nazi supporting Ukraine military named Bortnik (Michal Zurawski), entrusts him with the task of searching the sewers for hiding Jews – offering a handsome reward in return.
There are tense moments; the near flooding of the sewer and Bortniks own venture deep under the city are two examples that stand out, as well as scenes of extreme violence and horror that can be painful to watch, but Holland is careful not to include violence merely for the sake of it. Instead, she focuses on the personalities of the characters.
The Jews are not perfect; they include a conman, a junkie and Janek, who leaves his wife and daughter to escape with his mistress before also leaving her upon discovering that she’s pregnant.
We see the petty squabbles between the group and the class barriers that divide them. Indeed, these divides embody a greater portrait of a fractured Europe devastated by war, something which is evident in the cacophony of languages that occupy the film (six in total, including Polish, Yiddish, Russian and German).
Socha himself is not your typical hero either. It’s made clear from the outset that he is helping the Jews purely for momentary gain rather than higher humanitarian altruistic reasons, yet as the film progresses a transformation becomes apparent as he realises that the bonds which tie him to these men, women and children who are desperately trying to survive are stronger than he could have imagined.
True to the film’s title there are whole periods where the action is cast in shadows and entire scenes are hidden in the dank dark of the sewers. While at times this can make seeing anything nigh on impossible, if you can bear the eye strain and the 2 ½ hour length the film is definitely worth watching. And while you may not learn anything new about the atrocities of the Holocaust, it is a poignant and moving film that is sure to stir great emotions.
Running time: 145mins
UK Release Date: March 16, 2012