Directed by: Agnieszka Holland.
Written by: David F. Shamoon based on the book by Robert Marshall.
Starring: Robert Wieckiewicz (Leopold Socha), Benno Fürmann (Mundek Margulies), Agnieszka Grochowska (Klara Keller), Maria Schrader (Paulina Chiger), Herbert Knaup (Ignacy Chiger), Marcin Bosak (Yanek Grossmann), Krzysztof Skonieczny (Stefek Wroblewski), Milla Bankowicz (Krystyna Chiger), Oliwer Stanczak(Pawel Chiger), Kinga Preis (Wanda Socha).
At this point, we have all seen countless movies about the Holocaust – that gave run the gamut from masterpiece to sick exploitation. And many of these countless films have centered on a non-Jew who finds their humanity by helping a group of Jews hide from the Nazis and survive the war. Of course, the most well-known example would be Schindler’s List, but you could name many, many others. The story, well still powerful, has been told so many times that in many ways it has lost much of its impact. Before seeing In Darkness, I would have said I never needed to see another one of these movies again. But while In Darkness is not a great film like Schindler’s List, it is still a worthy one – one that gets under your skin, and while it doesn’t surprise you, it does move you.
The movie takes place in Poland, and starts with the Nazis liquidated the Ghettos in Lvov – killing many, and sending everyone to the Concentration Camps. A group of Jews however do not want to be sent away – and find a way to hide. The get into the sewer tunnels, and hide out there – where eventually Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Catholic-Polish sewer worker finds them. There are dozens of them, and he knows he cannot save all of them – but he does lead a smaller group to an area in the sewer that he feels is safe. At first, it`s just because the Jews have money – and a sewer worker with a family to support can always use money. Socha certainly has no love for the Jews – he insults them numerous times with anti-Semitic names and taunts – but somewhere along the line, Socha decides he must protect them – save them, at all costs, even when there is no money left.
All of this, I know, makes In Darkness sound much like many other Holocaust movies – and it won`t help if I tell you that In Darkness contains images like that of Nazi soldiers marching a group of naked Jewish women out into the forest before gunning them down. And all of that is true. But two things drew me into In Darkness despite the familiar territory. One was the visual look and location of the movie. Much of the movie takes place in the sewers, so the movie is bathed, appropriately enough, in darkness. I have heard some critics complain that the images are too murky, but that could have been a projection problem, because watching the film on DVD, I found the images, while dark, to also be crystal clear. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, who has already made more than one Holocaust film (the famous of which would be Europa, Europa from 1991), the films visuals are confident, dark and memorable.
But the more interesting element to be is Socha himself. He is certainly not the first character who decides to help save the Jews he was at first exploiting. But for Socha, there is no big movie transition, no one moment where he goes from someone trying to exploit to someone trying to save – it’s a gradual process, and I don’t think even he could tell you when it happened. It`s interesting to see him interact with an old friend he spent time in prison with – now a Ukrainian Army captain working for the Nazis. Perhaps Socha transformation has more to do with the Ukrainian than with the Jews himself – he doesn’t want to be as much of as a rat as his old friend, and he doesn’t like to be told what to do. Another thing that must be mentioned is that Jews themselves are not cookie cutter characters – not just innocents shivering in the dark waiting to be saved, but become three dimensional characters as well – and not all of them all that nice.
In Darkness is not one of the great Holocaust movies of all time – despite its visual look and the three dimensional characters, a movie like this, unless really special, cannot have the same impact as they once did. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. It was a safe choice by the Academy, but a valid one. In Darkness may not be a great film, but it is impossible not to be moved by it – not to be drawn into its story.