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In Darkness—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
February 10, 2012 12:40 AM
3 Comments
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The latest in a long line of incredible-but-true stories from World War II turns out to be one of the best. In Darkness dramatizes the saga of a group of Jewish men, women and children who paid a sewer worker in the city of Lvov to hide them underground, little dreaming that they would spend more than a year in that dark, damp, environment.

A key reason the movie is so effective is that it is also the story of that sewer worker (well played by Robert Wieckiewicz), who has no use for Jews and enters into this arrangement as a business transaction, nothing more. His transformation into the Jews’ protector and champion is both gradual and believable; what he comes to realize, over the course of many months, is that these unfortunates are just people, like any others.

Working from a script by David F. Shamoon (based on a book about the real-life incident by Robert Marshall), director Agnieszka Holland builds a tremendous amount of suspense in the dim, confined space of the sewer tunnels, with periodic side trips to the world above-ground. We come to know the Jews as individuals, and share their hair-raising near-misses when Nazi storm troopers and other sewer workers come close to finding them. One scene involving an underground flood is as gripping as any moment in a high-tech Hollywood thriller.

Like any survival story, this one depicts the incredible will to live that characterizes the human species, along with our failings and frailties. But what moved me the most is the reminder that one person—the unlikeliest hero, in this instance—can make a real difference in the world around him. It is also an  effective treatise on the power of the human conscience, and one man’s will to do the right thing. The cathartic effect of watching In Darkness is difficult to articulate; I can only tell you that by the end, I was in tears.

I am glad that In Darkness has earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Foreign Language Film, representing Poland; I hope it also finds a large and appreciative audience.

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3 Comments

  • Patrick M. Gouin | March 5, 2012 12:08 PMReply

    It’s the true story of a simple man who somewhat in spite of himself does heroic and compassionate deeds. This man goes from exploiter of the weak to savior of the desperate in the face of immense monstrosities. It’s a hard film on the Polish occupation by the Germans in the last world war. It’s a dark movie also as the title suggests, with most of the action playing out in the depths of the sewers as a group of refugee Jews hide from the occupant. The imagery is rich but cold. Although we witness great suffering on screen, the viewer isn’t drawn in, except perhaps in the desperate infanticide scene. We are held back as bystanders in front of all these horrors and this essentially holds back this film from greatness. This is, in my opinion, due to inadequate direction.

  • Edith Moehle | March 4, 2012 6:13 PMReply

    I would love to see the movie all my life I have though the Jews have been treated badly and I'm sure I would cry if I saw the movie. I know durning that war my people suffered also a lot also because of their holding strong to the faith. I live in tx do you think the movie will ever come here or be on TV. Thank you so much for letting me read what I did.

  • Lech | February 24, 2012 7:37 PMReply

    I saw in Manhattan it with my wife, our 16 years old son and his Jewish American girlfriend. Very powerful, honest and unique movie. We were all in tears as well. Too bad it is only played on a couple of screens in Manhattan and LA. However, according to Gazeta Wyborcza, the leading Polish daily, over 1 million viewers saw it in Poland. Extremely encouraging.

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