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Fri March 23, 2012
Going Underground 'In Darkness'
Though director Agnieszka Holland has been working a lot in America on such acclaimed HBO series as Treme and The Wire, she's very comfortable making movies about World War II.
Europa Europa, for example, earned her an Oscar nomination for her screenplay in 1990. In her latest, In Darkness, a Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee this year, she explores the true story of a Catholic Ukrainian sewer inspector who stumbles upon a horrific secret: a couple dozen Jews are hiding in the sewers of Lvov, Poland from the Nazis who've taken over their town. What's moving to watch is how he conspires with his own conscience to ensure the secret remains such.
The film opens on the brink of the Nazi takeover. The residents of one apartment building sense that there's trouble afoot and have begun carving out a vertical shaft through the first floor that, when covered by an area rug, would be invisible to a soldier's naked eye. When the killing starts on the street, several families' elders and youngsters take refuge in the fetid tunnels below the city, where they ultimately lived for 14 months.
When Leopold Socha, the big-hearted inspector, and his younger co-worker, first discover them, their first instinct is to turn them in. But he waits and, thanks to his wife's resistance to demonize her Jewish neighbors, eventually strikes a deal to receive payments for keeping their whereabouts a secret. Though he and his wife do use this new source of income for themselves, he spends most of it on food for his unorthodox employers. Things get complicated by the fact that Socha went to school with one of the Nazi officers leading the killing and he must become increasingly clever at feigning collusion.
The film is masterfully directed and artfully photographed, with particular attention paid to the contrasting dark shadows below ground and the shafts of light from above or farther down the tunnels. As grim and perilous as the situation is, many scenes look beautiful. And actor Robert Wieckiewicz is wonderful as a heroic man whose biggest concern transcends his own best-interest.