In 1943, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) risks his own life and puts his wife and daughter at risk when he agrees to save a group of Jews in the Nazi occupied Polish town of Lvov from certain death. Initially only interested in making money from his actions, the petty thief and burglar manages to hide the Jewish refugees for 14 months in the sewers of town - which he knows well as their professional inspector. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Harrowing yet satisfying, In Darkness once again pits human decency against human evil in the context of the Nazis and their determination to wipe Jews from the face of the earth. Harrowing for obvious reasons; given that the majority of the story takes place in the dank and dark sewers. Satisfying because of the triumph of human decency over self interest, as exemplified by Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), the grubby petty thief who earns his own salvation by his deeds - eventually.
It's that 'eventually' which gives Agnieszka Holland her film, immersing us in the experience for long enough to give us a modicum of insight and understanding into the events. It's 144 minutes, long by movie standards, but it's nothing compared to the 14 months it really lasted.
Wieckiewicz is an exceptionally fine choice for the role. We meet him robbing a house with his junior sidekick, his round peasant face disdainful of the world around him. He's a sewr inspector, what do we expect. He bargains with the terrified Jews who are escaping the Nazi sweep through Lvov; for a daily fee of 500 lotys, he will hide them in the maze of underground tunnels he knows "better than I know my wife". It's a pragmatic deal, and he keeps it a secret from his wife, Wonda (Kinga Preis), a lovely, warm, cuddly woman who cares for her family. The Nazis are paying 500 lotys for every Jew turned in ...
In the dungeon of the sewers, the Jewish group bicker, pray and partake of sex any way they can - often enough to have made me think fleetingly the film could almost be called Sex in the Sewers (sorry). There are countless incidents when fear of discovery threatens their lives, and the relationship between them and their saviour is tested, strained and even broken - for a while.
Much happens in 14 months of life, even in the sewers, and Holland captures the mood and atmosphere with a mixture of sympathy and hard nosed story telling. The claustrophobic environment is reflected in Jolanta Dylewska's excellent camerawork (and a feat of lighting solutions) while Antoni Komasa-Lazarkarkiewicz's subtle score underpins the emotional journey with sensitivity. Credit to editor Mike Czarnecki, whose ability to keep us underground to near suffocation point before letting us up into daylight is surgically precise, and to Erwin Prib's commendably invisible hand with the production design.
Emotionally demanding and cinematically challenging, In Darkness tells us - repeats for us - what we must always remember about human nature: everyone can redeem themselves. We are human.
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IN DARKNESS (MA15+)
CAST: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader, Herbert Knaup, Marcin Bosak, Krzysztof Skonieczny, Milla Bankowicz, Kinga Preis
PRODUCER: Leander Carell, Woiciech Danowski, eric Jordan, Patrick Knippel, Juliusz Machulski, Steffen Reuter, Paul Stephens
DIRECTOR: Agnieszka Holland
SCRIPT: David F. Shamoon (book by Robert Marshall)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jolanta Dylewska
EDITOR: Mike Czarnecki
MUSIC: Antoni Komasa-Lazarkarkiewicz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Erwin Prib
RUNNING TIME: 144 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 26, 2012
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.