Nominated in the category of
84th Academy Awards,
In Darkness is an oftentimes harrowing and claustrophobic film
that dramatises the true story of Catholic Sewer worker Leopold Socha,
who uses his familiarity with the layout of the sewers to hide a group
of Jewish refugees in Lwůw during Nazi occupation.
Initially seeing an opportunity to benefit financially off of the
horrors of the war by agreeing to hunt stragglers that have eluded
authorities during the liquidation of the ghetto, Socha soon stumbles
across some surviving Jews who had managed to avoid deportation or
slaughter who offer him a more money if heíll keep them hidden and
provided for. A former thief, Leopold is tempted by the promise of a
regular payday and agrees to assist.
homes abandoned by the Jews with his accomplice Szczepek and hunting
Jews for pay, Leopold isnít your archetypical hero. Unaffiliated with
either side of the conflict, he embarks on a risky endeavour that may
put his family at risk, not for reasons of altruism but for the simple
purpose of sating his own greed. One feels that if the Jewish survivors
didnít have enough money between them to trump the Naziís price on their
head, he would have turned them in at the drop of a hat.
the film morally ambiguous and motivated by dubious voracity, Leopold
isnít the most likable of protagonists and certainly isnít portrayed in
the same light of adulation as, say, Oskar Schindler. But thatís what
makes him so relatable as a character; he has the failings and simple
trappings of many of us. Heís not some idealistic hero valiantly
fighting against the Nazi regime, just an ordinary, slightly morally
bereft civilian caught in the middle of an attempted genocide, doing all
that he can to ensure survival.
Eventually, as youíd expect, he has a change of heart once he starts to
get to know the ragtag bunch of survivors and their children; once the
money runs out and the stakes for harbouring refugees become more severe
Leopold finds himself willing to stand and fight for those that he once
viewed only as dollar signs.
story, both literally and figuratively due to the underground setting of
much of the film, In Darkness is an exercise in tension, with a
scene regarding the fate of a newborn whose cries may alert soldiers to
their hiding place bringing the gravity of the situation crashing home.
The sewer scenes are oppressively dark, with most of them being lit
using only flashlights. This gives the film a gritty, cloying atmosphere
that makes you feel palpably uneasy and adds further authenticity
through the use of multiple languages rather than have everyone
uniformly speak Polish.
Sochaís personal journey from opportunistic thief to patriarchal saviour
is extremely convincing, predominately due to an effervescent
performance by Robert Wieckiewicz. Films regarding the Holocaust can be
a hard sell to some audiences; attempts to distil the atrocities
inflicted down to two hours can come off as insensitive in relation to
the magnitude of the actual events and the now familiar cookie cutter
plot of underdogs overcoming great odds risks becoming trite. The more
cynical among us may even suggest that these films exist solely to tug
the heartstrings and to serve as Oscar bait.
manages to deftly avoid these pitfalls for the most part and although
itís blatantly obvious where the story is heading, the journey is well
worth it and offers up some surprising twists to subvert your
expectations. By not lionising its protagonist, In Darkness
manages to offer a starkly human perspective on one of the darkest
chapters in history without feeling too self-congratulatory or
minimising the impact of these monumental events.
a generally dark film, the image quality of In Darkness is
superb. Filmed digitally, the transfer captures every minor nuance in
incredible clarity, from the texture of clothing to the perspiration on
Leopoldís face. Simply put, this is one of the best transfers currently
available on the market, easily competing with bigger budget Hollywood
fare. For a film that spends so much time in the dark, black levels are
paramount and the Blu-ray pulls off this feat admirably, with sufficient
shadow in scenes without sacrificing detail, even in low light. There is
no aliasing or blocking visible throughout and, although the film has a
muted colour palette, occasionally a dizzying splash of yellow or blue
will jump out at you, dazzling you with its beauty. The image is vivid
and sharply detailed and is hands down the finest transfer Iíve seen so
far this year.
Audio is in DTS-HD MA 5.1, quickly becoming the Sony standard, and it is
spectacular. Ambience takes precedence over music for the most part, but
when it does come to the fore the soundtrack is intelligently handled,
used to enhance the pathos of the scene. Clarity is impeccable, with the
audio levels consistently crisp and no noticeable drowning out of one
element in favour of another. Top marks all round in these areas.
only one supplemental feature of note, in which after the filmís
completion Director Agnieszka Holland finds out that one of the
subjects of the film was actually still alive. Organising to have a
meeting together, Holland and survivor Krystyna Chiger discuss the
parallels between the film and personal experiences.
a fascinating excursion into the mind of someone who has personally
experienced some of the worst atrocities of the Twentieth Century and
provides quite a bit of insight into the liberties taken with the story,
the dichotomy between societal conventions between Europe and America
and of course the experience itself. A great companion piece to the
film, deleted scenes that were omitted from the final print are also
memory of the Holocaust serves to speak of mankindís capacity to commit
acts of horrendous cruelty but also to remind us that there are those of
us who resist and fight in the face of overwhelming odds. Inspiring
stories such as this highlight the heroism of ordinary people and the
risks they took to save the Jews during this awful time of persecution.
Difficult to watch in parts, In Darkness is a moving true story
that reaffirms that in even the darkest of times there remains a light,
dim though it may be. The characters of the refugees could have
benefitted from a tad more characterisation and at times the atmosphere
can be so oppressive it can be physically and mentally draining, but by
the end of the film the uplifting reaffirmation that there is always
hope, no matter how slim, is the message that you walk away with. Highly