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I saw this movie at the Savannah Film Festival in Georgia today... Going in I thought this movie would be just another holocaust movie. But it was more than just a holocaust movie the story which is based off a true story told the story of people who regardless of race are escaping from their deaths by hiding in a sewer throughout the war. I was amazed by how this movie could keep my attention throughout as seeing that it's just a group of people hiding underground but it did. It's a long movie but entertaining throughout. The story embraced these poor individuals and showed their struggles and I was amazed by the acting. I was also amazed by all the challenges that they had gone through to produce this movie and my thought of how stressful it would be to be on a set like this. As a young cinematographer myself, I was impressed by the lighting and the picture overall that was produced. I'm dying to know what lenses they used for such a beautiful film. For attending this film and not being from Georgia I heard some positive and some negative feedback from other attendees of the film. Some people had a little struggle of how long the movie was... But in my eyes I feel that it's important for the movie to be longer because these people are in a tunnel for over a year and are struggling to survive.
I saw this movie at is world premier gala event at the Toronto
International Film Festival (TIFF). I must admit that I grew up hearing
stories from the script writer, David Shamoon, so I may have some bias
to this film. As a novice critic, this is my review: In Darkness is a
touching and moving film. This is not a war movie, and it is only
partly a Holocaust story. This is a human story. The memoir of one of
the survivors, who is portrayed in this film, inspired the book which
found its way to David then to Hollywood. Any one who sees this or has
any connection to the tragedies of the Second World War will be happy
that this story was told. It is unique and not like any other film
portrayal that I have ever seen. You must have a stomach for seeing
what survival is like when portrayed on the silver screen. You will
root for some characters, bit your nails as events unfold, and sigh
with relief at numerous occasions. At the end of the film you will have
something to talk about with those you watched it with and those you
want to recommend it to. See this film and you will be happy that you
As a side note, the presentation of the film at TIFF was on 10th anniversary of 9/11 and I would think that TIFF organizers chose this evening and this presentation strategically. There was also a special surprise after the movie, the survivor/writer of the original memoirs cam to stage to thank those involved and present her grand daughters. It brought tears to the audience. I have never been to a movie premier with so much applause before even when big names like Clooney are in attendance.
I watched this movie a few days back and I'm still contemplating what I
saw. It took me a while until I decided to watch it. I thought I saw
enough movies about The Second World War and about The Holocaust in
particular. But after watching it I was almost ashamed that I could
think like this. It's not like I'm ignorant, I just think that movies
about war are always too simple so I prefer to read books rather than
watch movies. But this movie is different. I was touched very deeply
and I don't regret any second spent on watching it.
The script is focused around the characters and maybe that is the strongest part of it. The war is only the background. We see how people can change and how they act when the tension around is almost unbearable. We see the brightest and the darkest side of humanity. And maybe what is most important here, we see common people. Without guns, without any special abilities true, honest characters with all their doubts, needs and desires. Only the circumstances are not common, so our characters try to deal with them. The word "our" characters is not an accident. I felt very close to these characters bad or good, it didn't matter they were almost naked in their emotions. And I think it's very true: in the horror of the war you don't have the time or the strength to hide behind some kind of curtain. No matter to what God we pray, what language we speak, in the end we are all human and it's our choice, what we make of our humanity.
Preferably watch it in the movie theater. Only then it is possible to experience the grand play of lights and the perfect work of the camera. In this movie also this aspect has its strong impact on the viewer.
I would say while watching this movie, I felt like I was in the very same place as our characters. It's very rare for me to have such feelings, so for me it's the best proof that this movie is in some way exceptional. I thought how I would act in situations the characters are in and I'm glad that I haven't been and I hope I never will be.
And I keep thinking that I'm very thankful for the creators, producers and the whole crew for this movie!
While there have been other movies dealing with Holocaust this one is
unique in its complexity. It takes place in Lvov, town populated by a
number of ethnic groups which had coexisted in an uneasy truce in a
sort of a Tower of Babel which first the Russian and then the German
occupations easily destroyed.
The mix of peoples is apparent by the mix of languages spoken: Polish, Yiddish, Ukrainian, German . The subtitles by the way are excellent and easy to follow.
The movie shows the risks involved in helping Jews under the German occupation a very important but often forgotten point. Heart wrenching scenes caused more than one person to wipe their tears in this Polish audience. The humanity of Socha the imperfect hero makes him one of the most heart warming characters that I recall.
This movie is a thriller, a morality tale and in some ways reminds one of a classic Western where honor, justice and love survive under most adverse circumstances.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"In Darkness" is the true story of a man who saved a dozen Jews in
Poland after the Nazi invasion, which started World War II, put all
Jewish people in mortal danger.
Much of this film takes place in the sewers under the city of Lvov where our protagonist is a sewer worker. He is the most knowledgeable person in town about the underworld. The world beneath the city is a kind of dark, wet hell, and Leopold Sucha, our tour guide, shows "his jews" around like Ovid guided Dante through the "Inferno."
In addition to slogging around in unclean waters, the cast fights off a lot of rats. Rats are ubiquitous, crawling around in most of the scenes. This is not a heart-warming, feel-good film. This film succeeds in making the viewer feel very uncomfortable most of the time.
As the Nazis begin to close down the Ghetto, a few men are seen digging under the floor of their home, attempting to create an escape route into the city sewer system. They do so just in the nick of time. The Nazi's are rounding up everyone as their friends and neighbors slide through a narrow hole into the sewer system.
As harshly as this film portrays the cold-blooded Nazi's, the film does not draw sentimental portraits of the victims either. One is hard- pressed to find heroism in the victims. Bickering, fighting and selfishness surface quickly to create more tension. At times, the fights and yelling are at exactly the wrong moment and could doom the group.
Caught between Nazi's he doesn't like and the "his Jews" who he doesn't care much about at first, Sucha tries to make extra money by hiding the refugees from the Ghetto and charging them for food and essentials.
He is conflicted at first, but the unrelenting savageness of the Nazi occupiers eventually turns Sucha toward a more sympathetic view of the people in his care. They do not make it easy. They accuse him of betrayal, attempt to kill him and do unspeakable things themselves. It would have been possible to forgive him if he had given up on them, but his own decency begins to turn him toward the salvation of "his Jews."
A reluctant hero, he risks his life and takes great risks to keep them safe from Nazis and natural disasters.
The movie is complex because there are so many character conflicts, so many nationalities and so many languages being spoken. The characters are not black and white, good and evil. There are times when the complexity becomes disorienting.
Unwise actions of the characters and the sense of danger make you squirm. And, well, the sewer is a really dark, filthy place to live for 14 months.
It's difficult to watch, but it is worth seeing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a disturbing film that everyone should see. It is based on the
true story of a dozen Jews who survived the Holocaust by living for
fourteen months in the sewers beneath Lvov, Poland, from 1944 to 1945.
It is also the story of an anti-Semitic sewer inspector named Leopold
"Poldek" Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) who at first sees helping the Jews
as a way to rip them off for what little money they have left but who
is transformed into a decent human being trying to help his fellow
human beings. One of a tiny handful of humorous scenes comes near the
end when one of the Jewish men says to Poldek, "I don't have any more
money". Poldek slips him a wad of cash and says, "Give this to me on
Friday in front of the others. We don't want them to know anything has
changed". As he turns and walks away, Poldek makes a face that says he
can't believe that he just did such a generous thing.
The cinematography and lighting in this movie are exceptional. Most of the movie takes place in what is supposed to be a badly lit sewer, yet the artificial lighting allows you to see the actors well enough without calling attention to itself.
Agnieszka Holland directed this movie. She has an impressive international résumé, but I still remember the first movie of hers that I saw "Europa Europa" another holocaust story I would highly recommend. (And it isn't as unrelentingly disturbing as "In Darkness".) What is disturbing is the atmosphere of doom and the brutality of the Nazis above ground contrasted with the atmosphere of doom and squalor in the dank, foul-smelling, rat-infested sewer. This is not a modern, prettified sewer; this sewer is nineteenth-century or older construction, labyrinthine, dismal and rank. It is a dangerous place where no one but Poldek can find their way in or out.
At one time or another, everything goes wrong for the hideaways. A heavy rain fills up the sewer, nearly drowning them. Polish collaborators find out they are there and try to turn them in to the Nazis. Poldek nearly gets caught several times trying to bring food and other necessities. Some Jews become tired of hiding and go above ground, only to be caught and imprisoned or killed outright.
I was able to watch all of this without giving in to despair only because I knew that one of the children must have survived because I saw her on American television several months ago. At the time, I think I realized that there was a book about these events, but until I saw that this movie was to be shown at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville earlier this month, I did not realize it had been made into a movie.
The subject matter of some films is so serious that it makes it
difficult to assess the work in purely cinematic terms. This is
especially true of real-life events that raise moral issues and there
can be no bigger instance than that of the Holocaust which is every
second of "In Darkness". It tells a story that would be literally
incredible if it was not true: how a dissolute Polish sewer worker
called Leopold Socha saved the lives of a dozen Jews by hiding them
underground for months. This happened in what was during the Second
World War the Polish town of Lwów and today is the Ukrainian town of
Lviv. In 1978, Socha and his wife were awarded the title "Righteous
among the Nations" by Yad Vashem in Israel.
The film is the work of Polish female director Agnieszka Holland and it is a Polish, German and Canadian co-production with a screenplay by Canadian writer David F. Shamoon. In any country, the film will have some subtitles, because the dialogue involves Polish, Ukrainian, Yiddish and German, and of course in English-speaking nations the whole thing is sub-titled which will limit its appeal to many, but it really is a work worth watching. Holland effectively conveys the paralysing fear and utter squalor of life in the sewers and Robert Wieckiewicz as Socha - like the other actors - shows how the unbearable stresses of such situations make people behave in ways, both good and bad, which are out of character.
"In Darkness" does not have the narrative drive and clear characterisation of "Schindler's List" but, like Spielberg's film, it is powerful movie-making and heart-wrenching storytelling.
My last day in Savannah, I had the the misfortune of having to choose
between seeing Lily Tomlin in person at a tribute/screening of "The
Late Show" or seeing Agnieszka Holland's baity but promising Holocaust
drama, "In Darkness." I chose the later with the hope that I would see
Tomlin somewhere around town. I didn't spot her, but I am very pleased
with my choice.
"In Darkness" tells the tale of Leopold Socha, a Catholic sewer worker in Lvov, Poland during the Nazi occupation. Along with his work partner, Socha (played magnificently by Robert Wieckiewicz) has begun breaking into the vacant homes of Jewish citizens that have been moved into the ghetto and stashing their valuables in the sewers for his own personal safekeeping. Meanwhile, as the Nazi's began their assault on the ghetto, a large group of Jews manage to dig down under their house and into the sewers where they are surprised by Socha just minutes after breaking through. Socha sees an opportunity to make some money and a deal is struck.
The audience is introduced to so many characters in the first half hour, it can be a bit difficult to know who you really need to focus on. Aside from the obvious lead, Socha, it soon becomes apparent who the other main players are and you form your attachments appropriately. While you see Socha as a loving husband and hard-working father right off the bat, how he takes advantage of the already desperate crowd he finds beneath the city showcases him as a bit less than a hero. Having him forced on you as the unlikely protagonist allows for a great evolution to play out. Wieckiewicz gives us a deeply nuanced turn as he we watch him learn both the impact he has had on those in the darkness and the impact they have had on him.
Visually, the movie is as dark as the name suggests. At least half of the film takes place in the sewers, thus evoking the proper sense of claustrophobia. A couple shots in particular felt nearly iconic to me; a woman in vivid blue running through the gray streets of the ghetto during the Nazi raid, Socha bringing a little girl up to the surface just enough to poke her head above the street. The production tips closer to minimalistic than lush, which works well under Holland's careful direction and in the bleak setting.
The movie is very powerful and carries a scholarly tone that should allow it to maintain a presence in the genre for years. As far as the Academy is concerned, this is a sure bet for a Best Foreign Language nomination (as Poland's submission) and a definite contender to take home the trophy. Wieckiewicz would have a place on my ballot as well as considerations for the film in Best Picture and several technical categories. This would be a great film for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival to add to their lineup.
4.5 out of 5 stars.
Check out more reviews by Cameron McAllister at Reel Georgia - www.ReelGA.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Oskar Schindler pales next to In Darkness's Poldek (Robert
Wieckiewicz), who attempts to save a group of Polish Jews in the Lovov
ghetto from the Nazis. He could have gotten 500 zlotys a head for them.
The path through the sewers provides the figurative death march for all
Jews oppressed in the Holocaust.
Not only are the circumstances in the sewer foul and deadly, with offal, bodies, and vermin constant companions, but also the madness of the darkness becomes almost too much to bear. Director Agnieszka Holland manages to create a claustrophobic effect as if we all were journeying in a garbage submarine. (A similar effect is in Das Boot.) Yet, figurative light shines through Poldek's anti-Semitic eyes as the once amoral profiteer becomes a reluctant but generous benefactor to the almost totally helpless Jews. His unheroic visage and his base life of tending to the sewers while profiteering from the lost add to his remarkably Christian acts under the guise of business. The Jews are transformed as well by shedding their prejudices about Poldek.
When the allies liberate those homeless ones, the figurative light returns in all its glory. Although this Holocaust story repeats some common tropes about the genre, this film goes further to explore the deadening world the Jews had to inhabit in order to survive. The film's episodic rather than thematic approach, its narrative reliant on discreet occurrences rather than seamless story, makes its over two hours overly long.
In Darkness is a powerful statement on man's inhumanity to man and the filmmaker's genius recreating one of the the most difficult stories to tell anymore.
There have been a rash of holocaust films in recent years told from
various view points and "In Darkness" is a worthy addition to the
pantheon of films that re-tell the horror of the Jewish ghettos of
Poland and their clearances. At a time when anti-semitic tendencies are
once again beginning to emerge in various European countries it is
sobering to be reminded of the consequences of the vicious hatred
whipped up by the Nazis in the 30's and 40's.
While some might argue that the film is perhaps 20 minutes too long I was not aware of the time passing, being thoroughly engrossed in the attempts by a small group of Jews to survive long enough in the sewers to evade capture by either the Germans or the murderous Ukranian police force who did much to assist the Nazis in their elimination of the Jews in Poland. The scenes cut between the dankness of the sewers and the light of the streets above and whenever we are transported up from the dark and into the light, as an audience, we take gulps of fresh air.
I suspect there was some artistic licence employed but the story itself pins you to the seat and the collective sigh when the final message comes up on the screen at the very end is almost palpable.
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