by M. Faust
One of this year’s nominees for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, In Darkness is based on a true story that took place in the Polish city of Lvov. In a Jewish ghetto slated for liquidation by the Nazi occupiers, a group of Jews escaped into the labyrinthine underground sewer system, where they hid for 14 months.
Unable to come above ground, they survived thanks to Leopold Socha, a petty thief employed by the city as a sewer worker. For a price, he brought food and other needed supplies to the fugitives. More importantly, he used his knowledge of the sewers to keep them out of sight of the Nazis, who suspected that they were there.
If this sounds familiar, well, it’s part of a thriving European genre of post-Schindler’s List films about Jews escaping the Nazis with help from Gentiles whose humanitarianism comes as a surprise to all, including themselves. Persuasively played by Robert Wieckiewicz (who will next be seen as Lech Walesa in Andrzej Wajda’s biography of the labor leader), Socha is the focus of the story, as his ongoing involvement puts him and his family at increasing personal risk. It makes for a more uplifting story than one focusing on the dozen people living underground: their story was extensively chronicled in the book by Robert Marshall on which the screenplay was based, but the sequences set in the murky, dimly lit sewers are enough to convince any but the most masochistic viewers that an entire film in this setting would be nearly unwatchable film. Instead, the result (as directed by Agnieszka Holland) is a respectful treatment of a story that deserved to be chronicled, even if it may best be appreciated by viewers who haven’t already seen too many similar stories.
Watch the trailer for In Darkness
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