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The Wartime Story of An Unlikely Light in the Darkness.,
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This review is from: In Darkness [DVD] (DVD)
Full marks to Agnieszka Holland's story of survival and rescue in German occupied Lwow (Now Lviv, but then still a major Polish city). The principal characters are neither all good nor all bad, but are presented with moral choices that they can take in their bleak circumstances. The film doesn't judge the characters, but rather follows their agonsing choice making. These choices can be for good or bad, to survive or perish, to betray or conceal.
When the German's liquidate the Lwow ghetto some of it's inhabitants manage to break into the city sewers to try to escape. They are stumbled upon by Socha a sewer worker who moonlights as a petty thief and looter and knows a chance to make some money when it presents itself. Socha, a devout Catholic is looking for an easy profit from what he considers to be wealthy runaways from the ghetto: A bargain is desperately struck. Socha will help the group of Jewish adults with their children and their baggage of problems in return for payment. The group bickers, squabbles and makes up between themselves and Socha as problems and crises arise and need to be challenged and overcome.
The film's strengh is in its attention to visual detail and the interaction between the characters. You can step into wartime Lwow. Wartime Lwow is cobbled and bleak. It's colour is grey (as are the characters). The sewers are cramped, flow with sewage and have mist swirling above the rank water. the light below street level is so poor you feel you need to squint to be able to see any detail on the screen, while that above is almost blinding at times. The characters speak German, Yiddish, Ukranian and Polish.
This is a very human film and dwells on the emotional struggles of the participants. The difficulty Socha faces with what has become carrying out his obligation; the fears of himself and his wife and child and also of "his" Jews. The draconian punishments the German's inflicted on the Poles for the least sign of resistance is brought home to Soccha when after killing a guard his former partner is one of the Poles he sees hanging on the gallows, executed in reprisal - one of fifty Poles murdered for in reprisal for a single German.
The off hand cruelty the Jews had to endure from the German's is also shown matter of factly rather than with any drama. The scene with Jewish women being chased screaming through the woods to the execution ground is particularly disturbing.
An Oscar nomination for Agnieszka Holland is well deserved for this sad, bleak and yet ultimately uplifting film.
I also find the film is similar to Andrzej Wajda's Kanal Kanal (Canal) [Region 2] [import] which deals with the fate of a Polish partisan group in the sewers of Warsaw. Agnieszka Holland worked with Wajda in the fifties when Kanal was made. The bleakness of the partisan's fate as it unfolds in the sewers is similar in some ways to the existance of Socha and the Jews below ground.
Also for further reading I would advise Waiting to be Heard: The Polish Christian Experience Under Nazi and Stalinist Oppression 1939-1955