Review by Pete Mason
Films about the Holocaust are prone to center on the struggle to survive under the rule of Adolf Hitler in Germany. While some are more familiar (“Schindler’s List,” “Life is Beautiful,” “Sophie’s Choice”) and others are not as well known (“Kapo,” “The Pawnbroker,” “The Grey”), the message that is shared through each story, often time based on real events, reflects the reality of living in Europe in the 1930s and early 1940s – you had to do what was necessary to survive. “In Darkness,” Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Film, is likely one of the latter, which will slip under the radar of the public eye, yet it proves to tell one of the most harrowing methods in which Jews in Poland survived for over a year – living in the sewers of Lvov.
“In Darkness” is about the struggle to survive in the worst of conditions. During the campaign to cleanse the Jewish ghetto of Lvov, amidst a war on their peaceful country and being hunted for their religion, a group of 40 or so Jews made their way into the Lvov sewers in early 1943. Ten were able to move to a more secure hiding spot inside the sewers, thanks to the help of Leopold Socha, a Pole who works in the sewers as an inspector. Against his better judgment – time were tough during the war and turning in one Jew meant 500 Zloty – Socha assists the Jews in bringing them through the sewers, passing bodies of the dead, and to a larger room where, for 14 months, this group of ten Jews lived, breathed and ate their limited supply of food inside of a sewer. Having seen numerous films on the Holocaust, the conditions are fresh in my mind, but these appear to be the worst documented and set to film.
Oscar nominated director, Agnieska Holland (“Europa Europa”) reluctantly took to directing the film and shot it in the native languages of all in the film – Yiddish, German, Polish and even Ukranian for Socha’s co-worker. This – her second Holocaust film of note – is equally painful, as the characters struggle to keep sane, remain unnoticed and adapt to their surroundings. Based on the book “In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust” by Robert Marshall, this troubling true story is a testament to the lengths that some went to help Jews during World War II and the Holocaust.
A score of ominous strings and timpani keeps the viewer tense throughout the film – at any moment, this group of ten Jews and their protector Socha could be found and killed. The tension is palpable, and the audience emitted audible gasps and sighs throughout the film’s emotional highs and lows. Flying under the radar, “In Darkness” will draw you in quickly and leave you speechless throughout the film… and after. It does, however, leave the viewer with hope that even in the hardest of times, the best in humanity comes to the help of those in the most need.