Darkest Hours

02/08/2012 4:00 AM |

In Darkness
Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Agnieszka Holland’s latest Holocaust film, up for a Best Foreign Film Oscar this month, retells the story of Leopold Socha, a Polish man who helped a group of Jews take refuge in the sewers of Nazi-occupied Lvov. Holland has a penchant for antiheros, and Socha is no angel. A petty thief with a prison record, Socha is the city’s Chief Supervisor of Sewers; when he stumbles upon the escaping Jews, he agrees to help them, at a price. Robert Wieckiewicz gives a suburb performance, bringing conviction to this war profiteer who transforms into a hero. The Jews manage to survive fourteen months underground, long after the funds to Socha run out.

The sewers were formidable: rats, sewage, endless darkness. Shooting digitally, on reconstructed sets, Director of Photography Jolanta Dylewska and Production Designer Erwin Prib convey the sense of endless darkness, yet still light the attractive Polish and German cast. They’re so attractive, in fact, that despite the harrowing times, everyone’s getting it on: in the ghetto, in front of the kids, and in the sewer, where everything feels dirty and grimy and cold and wet.

Holland insisted that In Darkness not be filmed in English, as was originally intended; here, the characters speak Yiddish, German, Ukranian, and even a bit of Balak, a local dialect that will have even those in the Polish-speaking community scanning for the subtitles. (In one particular moment that’ll go over the head of most American viewers, people hopscotch from one language to another until Socha demands everyone speak Polish, because he needs to understand what’s going on.)

Falling somewhere between Schindler’s List and Holland’s own Europa Europa, In Darkness isn’t particularly fresh, but its meditations on morality and survival make it a solid exploration into the labyrinth of man, during one of history’s darkest moments.

Opens February 10