Based on true events, 2011 Polish film In Darkness focuses on life in Nazi Occupied Poland during the Second World War. Leopold Socha (Robert Więckiewicz) is a sewer worker and part time thief who hides his horde of ill gotten goods in the sewers beneath the streets of Lwow. While in the sewers on day he comes across a group of freshly escaped Jews who have bored a hole through the ground from their Ghetto above. After threatening to turn them in for a reward, Socha instead agrees to help them in return for an even larger fee. For over a year he attempts to keep ‘His Jews’ hidden while living off the funds they provide him.
In Darkness was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar and was met with wide critical acclaim upon its release. The film is deeply harrowing and manages to create well rounded characters in both the Jews and Poles but unfortunately it lives in the shadows of Schindler’s List which has covered most of the ideas before.
I don’t want to make this review about Spielberg’s Holocaust film but there are a lot of crossovers. It’s difficult to watch the emptying of the Ghetto without being reminded of Schindler’s List and even the central character has shades of Oskar Schindler in him. Initially he is only in it for the money and is quite a greedy and corrupt character but by the end he is doing what he does for no money and no reward. The character arc is remarkably similar. The film, like Schindler’s List and The Pianist also creates the sense of warm dread in my stomach as I contemplate how something so barbaric, so un-human could have happened just seventy years ago, within the lifetime of people I know. It’s sickening and in that respect, long may Holocaust films continue to be made so that we are reminded of what our species is capable of.
What In Darkness introduces are the sewers. I haven’t seen or read anything about Jews hiding in sewers before and this added something new to the saddening story. The conditions are unimaginably terrible and the film does a decent job of stating this. Unfortunately we as viewers can only see and not smell the film. Had we been afforded that extra sense I expect the impact would have been even greater. The film doesn’t just focus on survival but there are several subplots which concentrate on family separation, romance, childhood, illness and betrayal. These aspects add to the film and help to create three dimensional characters. The characters, situation and plot are mostly believable although I do believe that some aspects have been exaggerated or embellished from the real life events. One thing the film does very successfully is that it doesn’t make every Jewish character out to be an Angel. Like all people, some of them are less than Angelic and this helps to create even more empathy for the other characters.
The shots from inside the sewers are often, in a strange way, very beautiful. Light is at a premium and the lack of light creates some interesting shadows and half hidden facial expressions. It is also interesting in a weird way to see the inside of an ancient sewer; it’s not something that one gets to see everyday. Shots from above ground are also very good and the locations feel realistic, as do the costumes. The acting is generally of a very high standard and I thought that Robert Więckiewicz as Socha and Benno Fürmann, who plays one of the Jews, were both excellent. The entire cast barely puts a foot wrong though.
In Darkness is a distressing film which provides a new angle and introduces some new characters to our greatest tragedy. The story is engaging and the film is well made but Schindler’s List was always in the back of my mind. Its giant boots don’t come close to being filled and while that is no fault of this movie, it’s an unfortunate conclusion to have to make.