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In Darkness

From the director of Europa Europa

Haunted by history, Polish filmmakers return time and again to the events of the Second World War that so scarred their country. Agnieszka Holland, one of Poland’s pre-eminent directors, has made a work that stands as one of her supreme achievements. In Darkness deals with something that has been difficult to reconcile within the war experience for many people: the Catholic-Jewish tension that cuts like a knife through Polish society. Conventional wisdom has it that, under Nazi rule, the natural anti-Semitism of Catholic Poland rose to the fore. Holland sets out to emphatically and majestically explore and undermine this particular view.

During the war, numerous Jews hid in the underground sewer systems of the major cities. This veritable labyrinth of underground passages, full of rats and waste, provided a safe haven as the Nazis starved and ultimately liquidated the ghettos. Based on a true story, In Darkness portrays this subterranean life through the experiences of Lvov sewer worker Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) and the people he meets on his rounds. What gives the film grit, urgency and complexity is the fact that Leopold is Catholic, and initially as anti-Semitic as they come. He also knows that any contact with Jews, let alone the help that he gives them, jeopardizes his life and that of his wife and child. There are many reasons for Leopold to simply turn his back, and initially he does. What makes this film so remarkable is the manner in which he is confounded by his own prejudices, and the equally complex way that Holland portrays the Jewish characters in her film.

Holland has confronted a myth. Instead of making a schematic corrective, she has infused In Darkness with moral indecision and bad faith, as well as some of the most moving and self-sacrificing actions imaginable. The film is a testament to her belief in both the good and evil that lives within us all. This is a self-portrait of mankind, magisterial and Shakespearean in its grasp of what we are capable of doing to – and for – each other.

– Piers Handling, Toronto International Film Festival
 

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