In Darkness

In Darkness (2011)
★★ / ★★★★

In the Nazi-occupied Lwów, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a sanitation worker, decided to rescue a group of Jewish people who were contained in the ghetto. His partner in the sewers, Szczepek (Krzysztof Skonieczny), was reluctant to help at first because if they got caught, it meant treason and certain death for them. But Socha proved persuasive. He urged his partner that they could always turn in the Jews to the Nazis later, but it would benefit them now to see how much money they could squeeze out of the desperate Jews. A payout of 500 zlotys a day, provided by the affluent Chiger (Herbert Knaup), suddenly wasn’t so bad, especially for a pair of sewer workers. But what would happen when the money ran out? Based on the book by Robert Marshall, while no one can deny that the events in “In Darkness” were horrifying, the filmmakers failed to harness the material’s power in order to really deliver a film that is both about the efforts of Socha as well as the Jewish individuals he hid from the Nazis. The first half was at times confusing because too many characters were introduced at the same time, their surface characteristics permeated and choked the remaining fresh oxygen prior to the extended stay underground. And once they had made one part of the sewers their “home,” it felt like an obligation for the camera to check up on them. While not a bad idea, glimpses in terms of how they coped (or did not cope) offered nothing beyond what we could see: the physical, psychological, and emotional suffering they had to endure. What I liked about the first half, however, was it had a chance to establish Socha’s complex motivations. He eventually learned that the Nazis were willing to pay 500 zlotys per Jew found hiding in the sewers. Given that the daily cost of food pretty much ate up Socha’s extra salary provided by Chiger, it would make sense, if his motivation was only influenced by economy, to hand over the people he protected. But he didn’t. Socha’s personality wasn’t especially likable but it became clear that his motivation was beyond money. The director, Agnieszka Holland, did a wonderful job using money as the protagonist’s excuse to hide his genuine human compassion amidst indescribable cruelty. Furthermore, because Socha was established slowly and in a subtle way, the events in the second half, especially when the location of the hideout was threatened, were suspenseful and moving. Unfortunately, the camera remained focused on jumping back and forth, showing us the terrible conditions in the sewers as if we didn’t already knew that such a place was untenable. To its credit, the scenes that took place underground looked and felt very real. It was appropriately dark and grimy. We could see rats, garbage, and excrement floating on the water. There were even corpses in there, Jewish corpses, and no one from above could be bothered enough to take the bodies out and give them a proper burial. I guess to the Nazis, Jewish corpses were exactly that: rats, garbage, and excrement–out of sight, out of mind. “W ciemności” certainly had emotional peaks, some earned while some weren’t, but the thinly molded supporting characters hindered its pacing and emotional momentum. At one point I wondered if Socha and “his” Jews’ story deserved something better.

2 replies »

  1. Boy, you nailed this one. I have a fascination with Jewish history- especially the holocaust- and couldn’t wait for it to be released. It should have been a much more emotional film- based as it was on a true story. And though the actos were all good, and the story gripping, the director just couldn’t deliver. I believe it was called “Out Of Darkness”, or something like that, in the states.

    • “It should have been a much more emotional film- based as it was on a true story.”

      I felt the same. I think it’s partly because of the camera jumping back and forth in perspective which was 1) off-putting and 2) in an underhanded way, it diminished the plight of the people who lived underground. There were also times when I was taken out of the situation because I caught myself thinking too much about the filmmakers’ intent in terms of watering down the material as to not be labeled sensationalistic. But, at least from how I approach holocaust movies, it’s supposed to be horrific and dramatic. Mixed bag.

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