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Friday, 16 March 2012 01:00

'In Darkness' Shines Light on Reluctant Heroism

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Written by Diane Carson
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  • Director: Agnieszka Holland
  • Dates: Opens March 16, 2012

Polish director Agnieszka Holland at first resisted, before gradually and then enthusiastically embracing the true story of In Darkness. An eclectic group of a dozen Jews survived World War II by hiding for over a year in the sewers of Lvov, Poland, right under the noses of the occupying Nazis. Leopold Socha, a ne'er-do-well thief called Poldek, made this possible.

A lukewarm, anti-Semitic Catholic himself, Poldek selfishly exploits the situation by demanding the Jews pay handsomely for his and his criminal cohort's efforts to smuggle food and clothing. A sewer worker by trade and a likable iconoclast, Poldek changes enormously over grueling months as he and his friend get to know the men, women and children they hide from Nazi-collaborators, the Ukrainian militia, occupying the city.

At the Telluride Film Festival, director Holland said what intrigues her is the nature of complex heroes. The unpredictable, cynical and gritty Poldek is no angel, no self-appointed savior, and yet he becomes a great man. As embodied by superb Polish actor Robert Wieckiewicz, Poldek jumps off the screen while also remaining remarkably accessible and totally believable.

Based on Robert Marshall's book In the Sewers of Lvov as adapted by David F. Shamoon, In Darkness contrast the gloomy and tense underground world with the violent above ground environment.

Shifting allegiances and confrontations dominate both realms, offering a realistic continuum rather than a simplistic good versus evil dichotomy. The Jewish men, women and children are not generalized victims, a common, insulting approach. Instead, here they are multidimensional, specific individuals, alternately arguing and cooperating, admirable and collapsing under the pressure. It thereby invites us to wonder what we'd do and how our values would endure under such duress.

A bit too long at 2½ hours, In Darkness still maintains a powerful intensity at crucial junctures and an engaging humanity throughout. Poland has already designated In Darkness as its Best Foreign Film nominee for an Oscar. Don't bet against it. In German, Polish, Yiddish, and Ukrainian all with English subtitles. At a Landmark Cinema.

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