June 10, 2012

Filthy Review - In Darkness

In Darkness (2011)

Review by Jude Felton

In Darkness is an epic, yet incredibly intimate, film that tells the story of a thief in war-torn Lvov, Poland, who ends up helping a group of Jews who live in the sewers below the streets. It’s a film that will stick in your mind long after if finishes, with its themes of friendship, betrayal, mistrust, redemption and brutality.

Leopold Socha is a petty thief who, along with his partner in crime, scours the streets and sewers of Lvov in search of loot, and if they are lucky some unfortunate Jews. They know they will get a good price if they hand them over to the invading forces. It’s a cut and dry way of life as he tries to make money as best he can.

One day, however, he does indeed come across a group of Jews hidden in the sewer. But, instead of handing them over, he comes to an uneasy, on both sides, agreement in which they pay him to keep them hidden away. It’s a fair enough business arrangement, and of course it is one that he can quite easily go back on; it is war after all.

As time progresses Socha becomes attached to those he helps; he no longer sees them as purely moneymakers and his conscience comes into play. This is by far no easy feat as one of Socha’s friends is a commander in the Ukrainian army, and it is his mission to round up as many Jews as possible. He is fully aware that no one knows the sewers as well as Socha, and fully expects him to co-operate.

Based on the non-fiction book In the Sewers on Lvov, this German, Polish and Canadian co-production is at times incredibly harsh viewing. Some of the scenes of cruelty and violence perpetrated are truly disturbing, and not to mention heartbreaking viewing. That being said though, In Darkness is a film that is about the relationships between the characters involved; the way in which they interact and the tensions between not only the opposing factions but indeed within their own groups.

In Darkness at times is truly intense viewing; watching a Jewish man having his beard ripped off his face, seeing piles of dead bodies or just the journey through the sewers themselves. Believe me, this is a powerful movie. The fact that people spent 14 months living in these squalid conditions only adds to the power.

It is not all doom and gloom though. Yes, the story is a sad and tragic one, but director Agnieszka Holland has seen fit to add the occasional light-hearted moment. After all, the film traverses a long period of time, and follows these people’s lives, so the characters try to make the best of their situation.

The film itself is also quite stunning to watch, the images are crisp and the attention to detail is incredible. There are times in the sewers when the images get a little on the dark side, which can make it a little confusing as to what is going on, yet in all honesty that only adds to the sense of isolation that must be felt whilst living down there.

In Darkness is a tour-de-force viewing experience that is ultimately uplifting, although the journey there is a brutal one. The acting throughout is excellent, with Robert Wieckiewicz putting in a great performance as Socha. All in all In Darkness is definitely recommended viewing as it is quite excellent.  Just be sure to give yourself plenty of time as it’s 2 ½ hours long and is most certainly not light viewing.

In Darkness is released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 12th by Sony Pictures Classics.

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