In Darkness digs into surviving unbearable stress
Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Starring Robert Wieckiewicz and Benno Fürmann. In Polish, Yiddish, and German with English subtitles. Rated 14A.
This is not the first time that Polish cinema has gone into the sewers. In 1957, Andrzej Wajda put his homeland’s film industry on the map with the aid of Kanal, a gritty Second World War drama about Polish defenders who try to reach safety beneath Warsaw while Germans stalk them above.
In Darkness takes place in Lvov, not Warsaw, and it’s a Holocaust drama, not a war movie. Nevertheless, the sewer as a conduit toward safety remains the central motif.
Based on actual events, the film describes the moral transformation of a sewer worker who moonlights as a burglar in Nazi-occupied Poland. When Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) discovers a small group of Jews from Lvov’s “evacuated” ghetto in a fetid tunnel, he initially sees only a prime opportunity for extortion. Only gradually does Socha’s humanity evolve, an inner journey that will eventually result in a pocket-size Oskar Schindler.
Although In Darkness always looks good, in many respects it is a decidedly imperfect work. Much of the dialogue sounds either naive or overly explicit. A trip to a nearby labour/transit camp is not entirely convincing, and the film itself feels too long.
This said, In Darkness is really good at showing how human beings behave when subjected to unbearable stress. Director Agnieszka Holland does not include any plaster saints in a film where mass murderers can demonstrate considerable bonhomie, friends and relatives are decidedly unstable, and prolonged confinement in close quarters can result in despicable, if understandable, behaviour. Trust is at a premium everywhere, and it is usually extended only when there is no other choice.
On this level, at least, In Darkness really does constitute an honourable addition to the main body of Holocaust cinema.
Watch the trailer for In Darkness.