Director: Agnieszka Holland
Cast: Robert Więckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska and Maria Schrader
Running Time: 144 minutes
In the opening scene of In Darkness, director Agnieszka Holland appears to make an assertion about her feelings about the atrocities suffered by the Jewish communities in Poland during the war. After raiding an abandoned house with his co-worker, Leopold Socha (Robert Więckiewicz) navigates through a nearby forest where he witnesses dozens of naked women being chased by German soldiers, their appearance more akin to pale white spectres flickering just before dawn’s break. A brutal execution sees their bodies piled en masse, yet their bodies seem more colourful, even possibly more human, as if their deaths were a release from the barbarity they were subjected to.
It is with surprise, then, that In Darkness, while dealing with a truly harrowing story in a grisly part of recent history is somewhat uplifting, and most bizarrely, funny at times. Following Socha, a petty thief and sewer worker in the Polish city of Lwów who agrees to hide a group of Jewish people throughout the cities’ underground with his vast knowledge of it’s labyrinthian shape. Primarily seeking only remuneration at the idea’s inception, Socha’s stoic approach to the Jewish plight comes undone as he grows closer and closer to them.
As a frequent collaborator with David Simon – she directed numerous episodes of The Wire and the pilot of Treme – it’s no shock to see Holland handle each character so well, from an affair revealed at the worst time to an untimely birth. Socha may command the lion’s share of the screen time but he exists merely as a vessel for the bigger picture. The presence of humour, although on no par with Life Is Beautiful, is welcome, with the irony of Passover being celebrated under a Holy Communion service a highlight.
Although based primarily underground and in perpetual Winter, the cinematography is stunning. The dimly lit cave like setting is perfectly realised while a ubiquitous sky blue motif plays throughout the film, most effectively on a Star Of David marking and in eyes seeing daylight for the first time in months. An unlucky loser in the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars to A Separation – a more than worthy winner, In Darkness achieves the rare act of bringing light to a cruel and harsh time in history, so heavily steeped in turpitude.