Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"In Darkness" is harrowing to watch

The film “In Darkness”, from director Agnieszka Holland, starts with a shot of a model train, and pretty soon we see it running a closed loop on a dining room table. That perhaps provides a metaphor for the scope of lives that the Jews hiding from the Nazis will lead for fourteen months in the sewer system below Lvov, Poland.

There are plenty of comparisons of the film to Steven Spielberg's “Schindler’s List” (1993), but in this film the “hero” Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) has his own financial motives for “hiding” refugees, only to change his attitude and purpose over time.  The film is in a restrained color (the Spielberg film had been in mostly BW), but the environment, about half of the movie talking place in the narrow, dark, oval tunnels, is so contained as to seem anti-visual.  When the film makes forays above the manholes, the effect is that of going to another planet (or emerging from a “Matrix”).  Because of the narrow visual focus, it was probably a good idea to stay with 1.85:1. This is a long film (145 minutes).

The society underground is almost as terrifying as the concentration camps.  There is a subplot where a woman gives birth, and everyone says they will share being parents.  But she smothers it to keep the baby’s cries from attracting the SS above.  The climax of the film comes, just before liberation (by the Russians, into communism) when a thunderstorm fills the sewers and drowns many of the people.

The music score, with many classical quotes, is startling, especially in the end credits, where it seems to use microtones (or quarter tones); it’s composed by Antoni Komasa-Lazarkarkiewicz.

Here’s a site about the history of Lvov during the Holocaust.

Sony’s official site is here

The movie was nominated for best foreign language film. 

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of downtown Warsaw, which I visited in May 1999.  It’s changed a lot in ten years. When I was there, it seemed a bit monotonous compared to other European cities. Krakow is interesting.  

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