Compelling WWII Jewish refugee tale has depth, wit and beauty
Poland’s entry for the 2012 Academy Awards is a compelling tale, a technical tour-de-force and altogether an impressive showcase for the talents of veteran director Agnieszka Holland, who recently helmed episodes of The Wire and The Killing (as well as films such as Europa, Europa, for which she was also Oscar-nominated, and The Secret Garden).
Drawn from a book, based on real-life events, by Robert Marshall, In Darkness tells of Polish Catholic sewer worker Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), who for more than a year during World War II hid a group of Jewish refugees in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Lvov (formerly Poland, now part of the Ukraine). Despite the technical headaches of shooting largely in cramped and ill-lit spaces – and the aesthetic challenge of making them look interesting – Holland and her cinematographer Jolanta Dylewska create a persuasive and sometimes even darkly beautiful visual environment. Holland is equally nimble at avoiding sentimentality or heavy-handed moralism: her characters are flawed and complex, their actions ambiguous and their motivation always survival rather than goodness or glory.
Plot similarities mean that comparisons to Schindler’s List are inevitable, and In Darkness has some similarly harrowing moments; but Holland is a tougher and a cooler-headed witness than Spielberg – more interested in the scratchy little betrayals and intimacies of human interaction than in sentimental button-pushing or grandiose statements regarding the triumph of the human spirit. In Darkness is a slick piece of filmmaking – indeed, with its multiple criss-crossing storylines, its tense action sequences and its nippy camera style, it’s a bit like sitting down to glut on one of those high-end TV shows on which Holland has been honing her skills. But slick doesn’t have to mean shallow, and In Darkness has depth, wit and complexity to back up its beauty.
Selected release from Fri 16 Mar.