"In Darkness" (2011 from Poland; 144 min.) brings the true story of how a group of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland take shelter in the large underground sewer system of the city, with the help of a couple of locals. As can be expected, many troubles ensue. I don't want to spoil the plot and you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Several comments: first, there are a number of very graphic scenes in the movie (just as an example, in one of the first scenes of the movie, we see Nazi soldiers chase down a group of (naked) women running for their lives into the woods--later we see that none survive), so be aware that this movie is not for the faint of heart. Second, the movie's title accurately reflects what this is about, as a significant portion of the movie plays out in the underground sewer system, where of course there is little to no light. Last but not least, this movie takes its time to develop both the main characters and the story line, so this is not for anyone in a hurry.
This movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Movie, and it certainly deserved that honor (it did not win, though). I left the movie theater where I saw it this past weekend full with haunting images in my head from this movie. Many movies before have brought Jewish survival tales from WWII, and this more than adds to that long roster. In sum, an important topic, and a great and haunting movie. With this, I've now seen 3 of the 5 Oscar-nominated best foreign movies (the others being Bullhead and A Separation). I hope to get a chance to see the remaining two (Footnote; Monsieur Lahzar) in the near future. Meanwhile, if you like quality foreign movies, "In Darkness" is highly recommended!
"In Darkness" is a 2011 Polish film nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Oscars. It tells the true story of a sewer inspector in Nazi occupied Lvov (then Poland, now The Ukraine) who agrees to shelter a group of Jews escaping from the death squads intent on exterminating them. The film is based on the 1990 book "In the Sewers of Lvov" by Robert Marshall.
Lvov was a thriving city prior to the war, and at the start of the war it was annexed by the Soviet Union and Jews from German occupied Poland fled to the city. The Lvov Ghetto became one of the largest Jewish ghettos in Nazi occupied Poland with more than 200,000 people. Aided by the Ukrainian militia, the Nazis accelerated liquidation in 1943 when the story begins. Ultimately less than 1,000 people survived.
FWIW - Although not a part of this film, it's worthy to note that Simon Wiesenthal (1908-2005) was one of the survivors. Wiesenthal gained international fame after the war as one of the most successful Nazi hunters.
"In Darkness" is reminiscent of "Kanal", a 1956 Polish film about the Warsaw Uprising - a 2 month struggle by the Polish resistance movement to liberate Warsaw from Nazi occupation while the Russians were advancing That film takes place in September 1944 and follows a platoon of 43 resistance fighters as they make their way through the city's sewer system to escape a Nazi offensive.
"Kanal" was the second of 3 films by Andrzej Wajda (1926) about this period, a period in which he himself was a resistance fighter. Wajda (1926) has 4 Oscar nominations for Best Foreign film - "The Promised Land" (1975), "The Maids of Weilko" (1979), "Man of Iron" (1981), and "Katyri" (2007) and won a BAFTA for "Danton" (1982). He won the Palme d'Or at Cannes for "Kanal", "Man of Marble" (1977), "Bez znieczulenia" (1978) and "Man of Iron" (1981).
The director of this film, Agnieszka Holland (1948) worked with Wajda early in her career as a writer and served as an assistant on the critically acclaimed "Danton" (1982). In this film she directs with such skill that she makes you feel the hopelessness and dread which the fugitives must have felt. Holland was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA for her work on "Europa Europa" (1990) and for an Emmy for "Treme" (2010).
The film is relentless in its tribute to the survival instinct, both with respect to the fugitives living in the sewers for more than a year, and the Polish worker and his family who keep them alive at the risk of their own lives.
The NY Times called the film "suspenseful, horrifying and at times intensely moving" and said "the visual contrast between the worlds above and below ground is handled beautifully and evocatively." Rex Reed in "The Observer" called it "beautifully filmed, sensitively acted and expertly written" and said "It's harrowing, sometimes difficult to watch and wrenchingly moving to the point of tears. It is also brilliant. Do not miss it."
Bottom line - a powerful film.
on June 21, 2012
With the notable exception(s) of Kieslowski's trilogy of films (Blue, White, and Red, especially Red), this is the finest Polish film that I've seen. In Darkness is powerful, unsentimental, and riveting.
Amazingly, after the film was done, the director, Agnieszka Holland, discovered that a key character in the film version of this true WWII survival story--the little Jewish girl (Krysia Chiger)--was still alive. The two women met in Warsaw in 2011, and their conversation is replayed in one of the film's supplemental features. Here, Mrs. Krystyna Chiger-Karen (she had married Marion Karen, a survivor who had been helped by Oskar Schindler) spoke movingly about how "everything" that the director "put into the film was true."
Agnieszka Holland can go toe-to-toe with the best of today's international film directors, and "In Darkness" is a testament to that truth, as well.
PS. The video and audio quality of the bluray disc is very good.
on February 29, 2012
A Polish film about Jews who hid in sewers from the Nazis during WWII. They were assisted by a local man who worked in the sewers and know his way around them. This was a very realistic movie that portrays the horrors of the treatment of the Jewish people by the German soldiers, and provides a glimpse of life on the run and the strong human desire to live. The dilemma of the man who is assisting them is apparent, as he must balance his desire to shield the Jews with his priority of protecting the lives of his own wife and child. This is a powerful movie that you do not want to miss.
on July 17, 2012
The challenges that we face in life today are put into perspective when compared to what people endured during World War II. Stories about the holocaust are painful yet amazing in the sense that they shows us the strength in people that has no rival. In Darkness (W ciemnosci), directed by Agnieszka Holland, is the true story of a sewer worker that saves the lives of a group of Jews. Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) is a Pole living in Lwow (now called Lviv and part of Ukraine) in Nazi occupied Poland. He doesn't go out of his way to become a hero, but rather he stumbles on the opportunity to make money hiding Jews in the sewers he knows so well.
Lwow has a rich history for both Poles and Jews that spans many centuries (while today both of these groups are only small minorities), with a mix of ethnicities, including Ukrainians, coexisting peacefully before the war. With the conflict running its course, self-interest and survival are the two primary motivations most people are left with. Leopold risks not only his own life, but also that of his entire family, by assisting the survival of anyone Jewish. The Germans meted out a quick punishment of death to the Poles who tired any heroics. Both the group of Jews and Leopold have some reservations and distrust in each other, but as time goes on, their business arrangement turns into much more.
In Darkness doesn't spare us the brutal events of war and will be quite shocking for some viewers. I would say the film is inappropriate for children for a number of reasons and the squeamish may also find it hard to watch. However, the violence isn't gratuitous, as it only adds to what really went on. The realism is also enhanced by the fact that several languages are used in this movie, including Polish, Yiddish, German and Ukrainian.
No other subject has received as much attention in Polish cinema as World War II. Some say these films acted as a catharsis for the whole country after it witnessed so many horrors. While this still may hold true, these movies also educate their audiences to history many are unaware of. While In Darkness doesn't try to overload us with historical facts or dates, as it subtlety informs us of how life was like in Nazi occupied Poland. We get a good look at the chaotic and brutal way of life people had to endue and come away with an appreciation that things should never be that away again.
on June 18, 2012
IN DARKNESS is based on the true story of a group of people who survived the violent destruction of the Jewish "ghetto" by escaping into the sewers of Lvov, Poland. For 14 months they endured unimaginable hardship surving through the help of a Polish sewer worker named Leopold Socha.
Although there is nothing much new in this story, it is still rivoting. There have been countless stories about a small group of Jewish men and women surving the horrors of Nazi evils in World War II. This is just one more story, and of course, all the stories of survival againts all odds are worth knowing.
Dozens escape into the sewers as the Nazis are exterminating the ghetto and killing randomly and dragging everyone else to concentration camps. When the encounter Socha on his rounds in the sewers, he offers to help only 11 and for a price. He can't save everyone but he can take 11 away to a more secluded area.
Here is where the story of mistrust, deceit, compassion and heroism take over.
Director Agnieszka Holland takes us on another harrowing story of survival during World War II. The group fo 11 whittles down to a smaller group and Socha must keep his secret from the world as he also must feed several extra mouths during a time of food shortages. Although we see the people living in the sewers, the story seems a bit sanitized. How did they deal with the filth and the horrific odors. We see kids treating the rats as almost pets. Despite the horrific environment, life goes and on and people still have the desire to have sex and be physically close. It is amazing.
There is a twist to this story that can be found in the Extra Features on the disc. Here is where the real gem of the film shines. Unbeknownst to director Agnieszka Holland, one of the survivors of the sewer was still very much alive. Krystyna Chiger was a small child with her brother and parents in the sewers. It's surprising that Holland did not discover this fact until AFTER her film was completed. In one of the extra features, Holland interviews Chiger about her experiences in the sewer. Chiger had no input in the making of the film but praised Holland for its realism and accuracy. I could have spent hours listening to Chiger tell her story. There have been countless films about the Holocaust and how groups of people survived the horrific odds. These films usually end with written words on the screen to give a brief synopsis of what happened to the survivors. How fascinating it would be to follow the survivors after their ordeal. How did they cope with the horrors? What was life like after the war--to have lost everything and everyone?
IN DARKNESS is a testament to survival and the will to live.
on July 5, 2012
Based on true events which took place in the Polish city of Luvov in WW2, this gruelling arthouse film revisits the emotional and factual territory familiar from Anne Frank's diary and Schindler's List. It seeks out rare fragments of human integrity and benevolence which have been all but extinguished under the Nazi boot in occupied territory. It is not a nice film, and the story is frighteningly familiar.
When the Jewish ghetto in the city is liquidated, and the people are either shot on the spot or shipped to a labour camp, a group of Jews flee into the city's sewers. A neer-do-well sewer worker (who moonlights as a looter) discovers them and strikes a bargain: he'll feed and find a safe haven in the rat-infested, stinking hellhole for a dozen of them. And they must pay him to stay alive.
So begins an appalling underground incarceration which lasts for over a year and which rasps away every aspect of sophistication from the disparate group. At first the sight of a rat is enough to cause shrieking hysterics. Later, the children pluck the animals from their shoulders without a second thought. Yet despite the relentless tension and misery, the majority of the refugees retain their better qualities: on the whole they seek to protect, to nurture and to survive as a group. They may indeed be starving in darkness, but their lives are not without light.
Although `In Darkness' makes for stressful and occasionally grim viewing, it is not without its lighter moments of humour and blackly comic insight. In particular the scenes between Socha, the sewer worker who turns out to be the Jews' saviour, and his wife are entirely life-affirming. Acts of momentous bravery pass become almost unnoticed, when the most basic act of procuring food might reveal the secret and condemn another dozen lives.
There are also some heart-stopping segments where the Ukrainian occupying force or Nazi officers come close to discovering the truth. And the film throughout is punctuated with explicit violence, nudity, death and sex, handled in an entirely matter of fact manner. Anyone could be killed at any time: that's exactly how it was. And the film's portrayal of that fact shockingly stark.
This isn't a comfortable film to kick back and watch for relaxation. It reflects the grim determination of the protagonists to keep on living against all odds and inhuman cruelty. The filming and acting are so accomplished that they scarcely intruded into the audience's consciousness, we were so wrapped up with the fate of the hidden and their protector.
You're guaranteed an emotionally-charged encounter, if not an exactly enjoyable evening.
Robert Marshall, the author of All the King's Men, collected the memoirs of survivors from the Ukrainian city of Lvov and combining them with his own research wrote a trying account of a group of Jews who spent 14 months in 1943-44 hiding in the city's sewer system. His book, "In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust" recounts the lives of twenty people, including two children and a pregnant woman, descending into their own Inferno--the ledges, caverns, and underground rivers of the catacombs beneath the city streets. How they coped with the feces, the rats, the darkness, the deaths of half their numbers, even with delivery and infanticide, is an unbelievably cruel documentation of truth. Marshall dedicated his book to the memory of Leopold Socha, a former criminal who became a Ukrainian sewer worker and made it his life's atonement to save a few Jews out of the murdered millions. Tragically, soon after he was able to bring "his Jews" back to daylight, Socha was killed in an accident. This extraordinary story has been adapted for the screen by David F. Shamoon and is recreated for us by the genius of Agnieszka Holland's direction.
The film is dark not only in content but also in the lack of light: most of the two and a half hour film takes place in the underground sewers where little light is available. The acting is immensely fine - especially Robert Wieckiewicz as Leopold Socha, the Catholic, petty thief, dissolute Polish sewer worker who saved the lives of a dozen Jews by hiding them underground for 14 months, Kinga Preis as his sympathetic wife Wanda, Krzysztof Skonieczny as Socha's partner Szczepek (Socha and Szczepek began their desperate business knowing the Nazis would pay $500 for each Jew they turn in but they in turn bargain with conman Jewish leader Mundek (Benno Fürmann) and for an even steeper price, they provide food and other resources to the underground Jews living in the sewers. The actors who portray the Jews - adults and children - are equally suberb. The cinematography is by Jolanta Dylewska and the spare but touching musical score is by Antoni Lazarkiewicz.
Though Holland takes us through the terror and misery these people suffered, she adds at the end of the film some facts that are appalling. In addition to offering the numbers of the Jews slaughtered during the war and the eventual division of lands and homes destroyed by the Nazis, she adds some facts that are heartwarming, such as in 1978 Socha and his wife were awarded the title "Righteous among the Nations" by Yad Vashem in Israel.
This is a very powerful film, brilliant in every aspect and one that deserves very wide attention to the peoples of the world. In Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish, German with English subtitles. Grady Harp, June 12
on March 12, 2013
This largely excellent film relates the true story of what happened in tne Nazi-occupied former eastern Polish city of Lvov when the Germans decide to empty the Jewish ghetto in 1943. A group of Jews breaks into the sewers from the basement of their building and the first person they meet is Polish sewer inspector Leopold Socha (wonderfully portrayed by Robert Wieckiewicz), who agrees to protect them in return for money. He leads the group to a stinking underground cellar where they must deal with the dark, the filth, numerous rats and boredom as well as the stress of knowing they could be betrayed at any point. Socha extorts a high price from the group and fires off anti-Semitic insults when they complain about their plight. People in the film variously speak Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, German and Yiddish, reflecting just how uneasily mixed together the population was. Socha relies for protection on a revolting Ukrainian colonel, a rabid Jew-hater who thinks the Nazis are the best thing to ever happen to the city. Socha has to remain friendly enough with the colonel to stay safe while distracting the officer as he hunts the refugees he knows must be hiding underground somewhere. The colonel's men and the Nazis are casually brutal and think nothing of executing (or threatening to execute) anyone who is in the slightest bit inconvenient. At one stage Socha tells the group he is fed up with their whining and will desert them, since his double life is becoming too dangerous. Gradually though he starts to consider the Jews as people he must protect and keeps on feeding and protecting them, even when their money runs out.
The film though is partly let down by a script that verges on the simplistic. At the start of the film Socha's wife tells him that Jews are good people who deserve to be treated as well as anyone else - this at a time when Poles' attitudes towards the large Jewish population were complex and conflicted, to say the very least. In the cellar, one of the escapees says German troops will die in Stalingrad, even though the battle had ended months before the ghetto was emptied. At the very end, when the survivors emerge from the sewers and blink at the son, Socha's wife turns up with a cake to celebrate their survival and you'd think you were watching a birthday party. Odd moments like this detract from but fortunately do not undermine a powerful film.
I loved director Agnieszka Holland's "Europa, Europa" which is a fact-based drama recounting the wartime exploits of a young Jewish teen, Jupp ( portrayed by Marco Hofschneider), who loses members of his family in Nazi occupied Europe, spends some time in a Bolshevik orphanage, and finally ends up amongst the Nazis, masquerading as an Aryan. Though it's been many years since I've watched "Europa, Europa", I remember it as being a nail-biter, full of suspenseful moments.
"In Darkness" is another Holocaust-themed Polish drama (English subtitles are available) by the same director and proved to be another riveting and suspenseful watch. Written by David F. Shamoon, the story is based on factual events described in the book, "In the Sewers of Lvov" by Robert Marshall. The central character in this story is Poldek (Robert Wieckiewicz), a man who has made a wartime career out of stealing and looting from abandoned homes. One day, he and his criminal pal, Szczepek (Krzysztof Skonieczny) are stashing their loot in the sewers when they stumble upon a couple of Jews who have dug a hole into the sewers and are planning to hide out in there. This has become a necessity as the Nazis and their Ukrainian underlings are liquidating the ghetto on daily basis and measures are being stepped up to exterminate the Jews. Always the opportunist, Poldek sees this as a money-making enterprise and convinces his younger sidekick to go along with the scheme. He agrees not to give the Jews away on condition that they pay him 500 zloty a day. When the time comes for the final liquidation of the ghetto, Poldek shows up to help the Jews, numbering around twelve or so in all. Poldek's job though is not made any easier when an ex-prison mate named Bortnik (Michal Zurawski) shows up, now donning the uniform of the Ukrainian militia.
The story is set primarily in darkness, matching the title of the movie. Some of the most intense scenes take place under cover of darkness and shows how humans can be stretched to their limits under the most trying and horrifying of circumstances. Poldek's Jews (I refer to them as such because there are many other Jews who escaped into the tunnels, but only a couple were chosen to be guided to safety under Poldek's supervision and protection) are a mixed lot - the homewrecker, the adulterous husband who chooses his mistress over his wife and daughter, the spirited young man, the upper class Jewish couple, a grieving sister, and many more.
The movie is compelling for several reasons - it was interesting to see how Poldek's character evolves from a purely mercenary character to one who begins to help the Jews out of a sense of moral obligation. The Jews in hiding also show their individual personalities and try to exercise their natural human instincts - children singing to while away the time in the dank, filth encrusted tunnels, a couple engaging in furtive and desperate coupling, a woman pleasuring herself, these and many other scenes are haunting and stark, conveying the desperation of the time.
The lead actor's strong performance and the dramatic cinematography with the stark interplay between light and darkness makes this a compelling and touching movie.