Review – In Darkness
2011, 145 mins, 15, Dir. Agnieszka Holland, starring Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann and Agnieszka Grochowska
Agnieszka Holland’s In Darkness was Poland’s candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2012 and although it didn’t win it is pretty good. It tells the true story of Leopold Soha, a public service worker in the Nazi-occupied town of Lvov who manages to hide a small number of Jews in the large underground sewers, of which he has an intricate knowledge. Initially thinking only for his own benefit, Soha began to bond with the Jews and vouch further for their protection. The title is extremely telling; the audience does indeed spend a lot of time in dimly-lit areas of the sewer (perhaps half the film) and at times it can be very difficult to watch, not just because of its subject matter but because of its technique. We constantly jump from above ground, where Soha wards off those who could ruin his secret, to below, where the Jews struggle to keep their humanity in enclosed rooms infested with rats. While this disorientating style is enough to put off some cinemagoers, In Darkness is something that should be seen at least once. It focuses on the actions of one individual in the context of the Holocaust, one man’s personal decision to help those in need, and is astonishingly visceral; the director takes us without hesitation into the grime of the film’s hiding place, the sweat and heavy breath of our protagonists, the pitter-patter of vermin on the sewer floor. In some areas, it is intensely uncomfortable. And yet a necessary watch – an absorbing, psychologically profound piece of work which works remarkably as a smaller-scale production (in comparison to similar films such as Schindler’s List). The amount of fear and uncertainty conjured up by the superb actors and claustrophobic camera angles makes this an experience. Although you can begin to feel the time towards the end of the 2 1/2 hours, it is very tense, and quite a brilliant portrait of an ‘unsung war hero’, an alternative tale from the horrors of the Holocaust, with a terrific performance from Robert Wieckiewicz.
4 stars out of 5