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REVIEW

In Darkness

By MICK LASALLE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

This article was published April 13, 2012 at 2:40 a.m.

— To give the highest recommendation to a Holocaust movie is to anticipate a certain resistance in the reader.

Such resistance is understandable. One might think that years and years of seeing Holocaust movies would create an immunity, a point at which you can feel no more. But in fact, it works the other way. The more you see, the worse it gets, so that at the beginning of In Darkness, watching the Nazis march naked Polish women into the woods, toward their own mass grave, I just didn’t want to go there again.

But In Darkness is an extraordinary movie, and somehow good art creates its own uplift. This Agnieszka Holland film rises to its subject, so that the overall experience of it is far from dispiriting. Poland’s candidate for the best foreign film Oscar (it lost to A Separation) deals with real life events in the city of Lvov, in the last year of the German occupation. It’s a gripping piece of history and also an exploration into the mysteries of the human soul.

The mysterious soul in question is that of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Polish Christian who works as a sewer worker but augments his income with shady deals and thievery.

One day, a group of Jews comes to him and asks for his help because he knows the sewers better than anybody, and he can hide them there. He agrees, but for a price. He has no apparent human sympathy and, at first, even considers double-crossing them.

But something happens inside Socha - and this is a big part of what makes In Darkness so effective and truthful: The change in him is never stated overtly. Nor is there some Movie Moment of transition, in which he goes from mercenary to compassionate.

We see the change in him expressed in action and in hints, just hints in Wieckiewicz’s wonderful performance, that there are hidden depths here.

Physically, much of the movie takes place in the sewers (with part of the movie filmed in an actual sewer), and though the frame is dark, the setting is vivid - you can almost smell it and feel the damp.

If Socha isn’t all bad, the Jews are not especially virtuous. They are people under extreme stress, each one handling it differently, some worse than others

Holland never loses track of the grand movements, but she’s at her most brilliant finding the subtleties of interaction in David F. Shamoon’s screenplay - the strange look, for example, that crosses Socha’s eyes when he talks with his Nazi friend, a Ukrainian who has found a place in Hitler’s army. Perhaps the mystery of Socha’s soul, the reason he risked everything, resided to a large part in simple orneriness, an unwillingness to be told what to do.

In Darkness 91

Cast:

Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader

Director:

Agnieszka Holland

Rating:

R, for violence, disturbing images, sexuality, nudity and language

Running time:

145 minutes In Polish, German and Ukrainian with English subtitles

MovieStyle, Pages 36 on 04/13/2012

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