Review: In Darkness
PLOT: In German-occupied Poland, a Polish sewer-worker, who dabbles as a small time crook, stumbles upon a group of Jewish refugees, hiding from the Nazis in the sewers. He offers to help them in exchange for all of their money and jewelry, but slowly, they become a part of his life, and he braves the constant threat of retaliation and arrest in order to help them survive.
REVIEW: IN DARKNESS is one of the films up for best foreign film at this year's Oscars, and despite having seen my share of Holocaust related dramas in the last few years, IN DARKNESS still packs a wallop, telling an incredible, but true story that I had never heard before. Sure enough, during the German occupation of Lvov, an ex-con sewer worker named Leopold Socha (played by Polish leading man Robert Wiekiewicz) really did hide eleven Jewish refugees in the sewers of the city, right under the nose of the brutal Nazi-occupiers.
Since playing the film festival circuit, IN DARKNESS has picked up a lot of comparisons to SCHINDLER'S LIST, with the main similarity being that like Oskar Schindler, Socha was a man of contradictions. He starts off as a vile anti-Semite, and unlike what you'd probably see in a Hollywood-ized treatment of the tale, it takes him an awful long time to eventually help the hidden Jewish couples for any reason other than monetary gain. At first, he's a gangster, more than willing to profit of the misfortunes of others, although his treatment of his wife and young daughters reveals a tenderness you wouldn't think could exist is someone so cold-blooded and full of rage. It's only after coming to know the people in question, particularly the two adorable kids of one of the couples he's hiding, and being faced with the unimaginable brutality of the Nazi occupiers, that he begins to evolve into the hero history eventually made him.
In addition to Wiekiewicz' Socha, the other key players, being the Jewish refugees, are also portrayed in a far more three-dimensional way then usual. They're not sainted in their suffering, but rather depicted as normal people- complete with normal flaws. Some are selfless, but some also react selfishly, with the need to survive overtaking any other kind of morality- which to me strikes me as true to life and makes IN DARKNESS especially relate-able, as really, who knows how any of us would react under similar circumstances?
IN DARKNESS comes from director Agnieszka Holland, who's no stranger to the period, having directed another best foreign film nominee, 1991's EUROPA EUROPA- which was the story of a Jewish concentration camp escapee hiding amongst the Hitler Youth. Like that, this is a starkly realistic film, with most of it taking place in the dimly-lit sewers, and otherwise, in the sun-bleached streets of Lvov, and the razed Jewish ghetto (with the opening attack being one of the more shocking scenes I've seen in a while). Holland takes a minimalist approach to the drama, with the film being almost entirely without a musical score, and the melodrama kept to a minimum. The story is so inherently powerful that nothing artificial is needed, nor used in the film- giving it a docu-drama feel that makes the film feel bold and fresh.
Certainly, of the best foreign film nominees that I've seen (I'll be reviewing most of them this week)- IN DARKNESS feels like the film that SHOULD win the Oscar, but as it's a famously unpredictable category, we'll have to wait and see. Still, the film should start rolling out into theatres near you over the next few weeks, and this is one I can't recommend highly enough. Distributor Sony Pictures Classics has shown good taste in their foreign acquisitions, with films like THE LIVES OF OTHERS, BLACK BOOK, A PROPHET, INCENDIES, IN A BETTER WORLD and THE WHITE RIBBON all being theirs. This is certainly up to that standard, which in my book, is some pretty strong praise. See it!