In Darkness (2011), nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars, makes for hard, but fundamentally essential viewing. The Polish film by award winning director Agnieszka Holland and starring Robert Więckiewicz, Benno Fürmann and Agnieszka Grochowska, is a brutal and thought-provoking drama which serves to remind us why the atrocities of WWII and the people who risked their lives to fight them should never, and can never, be forgotten.
Based on true events, In Darkness tells the story of Leopold Socha (Więckiewicz), a sewer worker and petty thief, who risked his life and that of his family to rescue a group of Jews from the Nazis in the occupied city of Lvov, Poland. A ‘job’ initially done for monetary gain, once Leopold agrees to hide the terrified and desperate Jews for a price, it soon transforms into a matter of honour and conscience as he finds himself increasingly effected by and emotionally-attached to members of the group, whilst also repulsed by their treatment at the hands of the German soldiers and his fellow Poles.
Astonishing acts of bravery and self sacrifice by ordinary people during the Holocaust have been the basis for various cinematic interpretations over the years – Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List (1993) being the most obvious example. In fact, a spate of books and films in 2009 made Agnieszka Holland question whether there was still anything to be said on the subject. However, after watching In Darkness, the viewer can only be grateful that she decided there was. Its depiction of the change in Leopold, from a man fixated with financial gain and self preservation to one who is willing to risk his own life in the name of what he sees as justice and humanity, is never less than uplifting.
The film’s unflinching realism, particularly during the harrowing scenes set within the infamous Janowska concentration camp, as well as those in the claustrophobic sewers beneath Lvov where Leopold hides the Jews, is truly hard to watch. However, despite this and an ending tinged with sadness, In Darkness leaves its audience with a sense of hope – that good can prevail in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.