IN DARKNESS (Agnieszka Holland, 2011)

Subterranean handheld camera: flickering patches of light in darkness: human faces; human lives.

    There must always be the modern Israel: this is the message of Agnieszka Holland’s stunning In Darkness. About the almost inconceivably challenging ordeal of Jewish adults and children hiding for 14 months in the dark, rat-infested Lvov sewers during the German occupation, it is drawn from Krystyna Chiger’s memoir, The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust’s Shadow, and Robert Marshall’s In rhe Sewers of Lvov, itself drawn from recollections of survivors of the ordeal. (Lvov, Poland: Lviv, Ukraine, today.) Holland’s harrowing, tremendously moving achievement won her the best film prize at the Polish Film Festival.

    At least since Angry Harvest (1985), Holland has tackled material that reflects the divergent religious backgrounds of her journalist-parents, a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. In Darkness claims a double focus: the people in hiding; the Catholic sewer worker, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz, best actor, Polish Film Awards), who assists them. Apparently, Socha was motivated by greed—he squeezed out of them whatever money and expensive material possessions “his Jews” had—until, over time, he responded to their plight. How accurate is this moral transformation? Even if it puts the best possible spin on ambiguous character matter, it is dramatically feasible. It isn’t the sort of whitewash that Steven Spielberg applies to a killer of Jews in the floridly melodramatic, cold-blooded Schindler’s List (1993).           

    Sparingly, the camera glides upward from below: to military boots on the ground; to Socha’s daughter’s confirmation ceremony above a makeshift Passover ceremony underneath the church. Sacred: the erasure of sound as a couple make love down below. “Stop here, or gently pass!”

    Liberation; Socha dies defending his daughter from rape: “Punishment for helping Jews.” The “liberated” escape.

    Israel.                                                               

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