In Darkness, Blu-ray (2012)
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann
Studio: Studio Babelsberg (Germany/Poland/Canada co-production)/Sony Pictures Classics 39867
Video: 1.85.1 for 16:9 1080p HD color
Audio: Polish/Yiddish/German DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH
Extras: “An Evening with Agnieska Holland,” “A Convertion Between Director Holland and Real Life Survivor Krystnyna Chiger,” Trailers
Length: 143 minutes
It may seem to many that all the good Holocaust films have been made by this time, but after viewing this gem you will not only not have a dry eye will disagree strongly with that. It won prizes at both the Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals and I think it is shocking that in several major American cities it has as yet not been exhibited at all.
Some of us will be immediately reminded of the classic WWII Polish B&W film, Wadja’s Kanal of 1956, which also took place in the sewers. But that was about the Warsaw Uprising and followed a platoon of 45 Polish resistance fighters. This one is the true story of a sewer inspector in Lvov who had already been using the sewers in stowing stolen items. With his young assistant he agrees for a price to shelter about a dozen Jews from the Lvov Ghetto which was being totally liquidated by the Nazis. Director Holland (who had worked with Wadja), had earlier been told by this time no one now survived living in the sewers for 14 months, learned after the film was all shot that Mrs. Chiger—who had written a book about her experiences—was alive and well. She was presented at the Toronto Film Festival following the film. (Simon Wiesenthal was another of the survivors.)
With so much of the film taking place almost literally in darkness, it will be a real test of most home systems. I see those with more recent sets having great contrast ratio and especially those with Blu-ray players having the most success. The DTS lossless hi-res surround is compelling and makes this much more of a subjective experience than Kanal ever was. Need I say more…
After establishing the ghetto and the two sewer workers, the film opens with a group of Jews who have burrowed thru their lowest floor into the sewer system and run into Socha the sewer inspector. He tells them he can take them to a safer part of the sewer system because they will surely be found and killed by the Nazi in the ghetto area. Their somewhat-leader, a Jewish intellectual with some money—who is then taunted by the others for refusing to speak their Yiddish—agrees.
Conditions are of course terrible for the few Jews Socha has agreed to protect (they include two children), but he has a few problems too. He hadn’t told his wife and when he does they worry for their entire family. He runs into a former Ukrainian good friend who has become a Nazi jew-hunter. Socha’s young assistant fears for their lives in helping the jews and says he will participate no longer. The money to pay for food plus the small amount of his commission runs out completely, and Socha begins to pay for the food himself.
Excellent acting and realistic cinematography ensure the high quality of In Darkness. Several opportunities are taken care of to take the viewer out of the sewers for a bit, such as sneaking into the local prison camp by one of the characters looking for a relative who ran away—certain that the sewers were worse than the ghetto had been. Several times the camera shows us life going on just above the heads of those in the sewers, and a memorable shot is created: Socha and his wife are in their best clothes for the first communion of their daughter at the Catholic church—which happens to be directly above the sewer portion in which the Jews are living. Only a downpour and flood has occurred and Socha knows the Jews may be drowning. The camera has smoothly elevated from the near-drowning of the Jews under the street up to the gorgeous church interior and the little girl turning to her parents and smiling after taking the wafer. (There was strong anti-Semitism in Polish Catholicisim at the time.) Socha rushes out in the downpour and is waylaid in the street by the Ukrainian friend who is following up on evidence a neighbor has given him: the scent of onions cooking coming out of the toilet. Socha pretends he is helping the search, but soon they discover cooking pots and pans coming down the stream and the Ukrainian realizes he has been lied to all along. Socha merely tells him they have come so far into the sewers than the Nazi will never get out if he shoots. The Jews are saved by a sudden lowering of the water level but the Nazi does drown.
The penultimate scene of the little girl (who became the survivor at the Toronto Festival!) being taken to look out the open man-hole cover by one of the men is unforgettable. Her brother, who has made playmates of some of the rats, is fearful of the above-ground world and wants to go back.
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