IN DARKNESS – The Review
IN DARKNESS was one of the recent Best Foreign Film nominees at the Academy Awards ( Iran took home Oscar for A SEPERATION ). It tells another tale of European Jews being helped to evade the forces of Nazi Germany, a story related in previous films like THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK to SCHINDLER’S LIST. DARKNESS proves to be a worthy addition to these dramas. It’s no dry history lesson, but an involving, suspenseful thriller that has as many nail-biting moments as the last three or four big-budget action extravaganzas. You’ll leave the theatre having learned something and perhaps feeling invigorated. When you think about what these folks had to go through, the air outside the exit doors may smell just a little sweeter than when you went in.
The main focus of the story is Leopold Socha, a sewer worker in Lvov ( former Poland ). He and his co-worker are trying to make ends meet and not incur the ire of the occupying German forces during the early 1940′s. Socha even robs the homes of Jews who have been re-located to camps ( they’re interrupted during their haul in an early scene ). Making his rounds he discovers that some Jewish families have built trap-doors in their apartments that allow them to drop down below the buildings and hide from the soldiers who would load them up in trucks. Sosha sees a way to take advantage of their plight ( and bring a bit more home to his beleaguered missus ). He’ll escort them down into the sewers under the streets and take them to a small spot that few others know about . And he’ll bring them food until the soldiers have left the city. He’ll do all that for a nominal weekly fee ( not counting the initial entrance spots that he collects before the trip down below ). The refugees have little choice, but to put their faith ( and funds ) in the hands of the mercenary city worker. Days drag into weeks, then into months. Socha tries to stay several steps ahead of the authorities ( who’ve heard rumors of people hiding away down there) while his charges try to hold on to their sanity as they live out their mole-like existence with no apparent relief in sight.
The film’s greatest strength is the humanity of all the characters in this unbelievable, but very true story. The refugees are not stoic, noble heroes, but real people with all their faults and foibles. One man carries on an affair with a woman while his wife and child sleep nearby ( or so he believes ). The sewer-dwellers bicker about their class standings and education ( the college professor is constantly on the defense ). On the other side, one of Socha’s old pals has fallen in with the occupiers and tries to get his old buddy to help him track down unwanteds. As for the other townspeople, many decry and bemoan the treatment of their Jewish neighbors, while others grumble, ” Good riddance. About time. ” ( the Nazis get to act on these citizen’s jealousy and hatred ). Of course, the character with the greatest arc is Socha. Originally there to make a few quick bucks off them, after a few shouting matches ( they just don’t appreciate him! ), he becomes sympathetic and even parental towards his hideaways ( like Schindler, he calls the ” my Jews ” ). Kudos to the film makers for not over-emphasizing the filth of the sewers ( no ” Smell-a-Vision “, thank heaven. They also crank up the tension when the small group expands and later when a deadly flash flood strikes ( the flooding tunnel has been used since the early silents, but this sequence adds another layer of thrills as the refugees try to keep out of sight ). This is an incredibly well-made motion picture that helps shed a well-deserved spotlight on a greedy little con-man who opened his heart and became a great historical hero in spite of himself.
Overall Rating: 4.5 Out of 5 Stars