In Darkness (review)

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In Darkness

It’s The Diary of Anne Frank, only with sewers. And it’s more about the hidee than the hiders. This is the true story of sewer inspector and small-time criminal Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), who in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1943 agrees to hide a small band of Jews in the dank underground tunnels of the city of Lvov, in exchange for a not-so-small fee, of course. That’s okay because all Jews are rich, and anyway they’re not even grateful for what Socha is doing for them, so fair’s fair… or so he believes. Will he learn the errors of his bigotries and discover that Jews are people too? In Darkness, a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, is elegantly presented, chock full of moments of dreadful suspense in a horrible milieu in which everyone is ready to take advantage of anyone at a moment’s notice, and buoyed by strikingly naturalistic performances. And director Agnieszka Holland — who’s mostly been working in American TV lately, directing episodes of Treme, The Killing, Cold Case, and The Wire — and screenwriter David F. Shamoon — working from the book In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — take great care to present a complex scenario peopled by complex characters. The Jews in hiding are not paragons but messy, complicated human beings: one arresting sequence sees a domestic squabble flare up in the middle of a massacre they’re meant to be escaping. Still, the film just barely escapes being all about Socha’s transformation into a better man via his “magic Jews” because there’s also Mundek Margulies (Benno Fürmann: Joyeux Noël), whose experience as a Jew in hiding is transformative enough to qualify as an actual character arc. Just barely.

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