Entertainment :: Movies

In Darkness

by Steve Weinstein
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Sunday Jun 24, 2012
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The realism in In Darkness extends way beyond the yellowed, crooked teeth, blotched skin and generally unhealthy pallor of the actors. And it’s more than the original languages -- German, Yiddish, Polish.

What makes this film so intensely real, other than the uniformly excellent acting, is director Agnieszka Holland’s directorial eye and an superior Polish cast, led by Robert Wieckiewicz, a pug-faced, meaty man who perfectly fits the role of Socha; and Marcin Bosak, who plays the Jew known as Pirate, the kind of shifty, crafty, double-dealing person who was probably best suited to survive the ordeal of the Holocaust. (Bosak has chiseled good looks and should definitely be seen more on these shores!)

I profoundly disagree with A.O. Scott’s glib review in the New York Times that dismissed "In Darkness" as another three-hankie, ultimately feel-good movie about the men and women the Jews call the Righteous Gentiles, those who risked theirs and their families’ lives to rescue Jews.

What makes this film even more moving than "Schindler’s List," is -- other than the exclusive use of Eastern European languages, which doesn’t allow the distancing of Steven Spielberg’s film -- Socha. Although Spielberg tried to give Schindler some nuance, he doesn’t come close to the way Holland and Wieckiewicz limn Socha.

To be the main sewer worker in Lvov, a eastern Polish city, is already about as low on the social scale as you can go. But Socha is also a petty thief, who looks at the Nazi "cleansing" of the Lvov Ghetto as much as a business opportunity as a human calamity.

When Socha is confronted with a gaggle of Jews who manage to escape into the city’s sewer (and here, I do somewhat agree with Scott that there’s a kind of "Diary of Anne Frank" cliché in the types who make it), at first he cynically pumps them for money. But gradually, their shared sense of humanity forces him into helping them for their own sake.

This is done with an absolute minimum of saccharine sentiment or even emotion. Socha isn’t the type to be in touch with his feelings, which makes the gradual change in his character all the more touching.

As if what came before weren’t wrenching enough, the ending contains a twist that will tear at your heart. Holland, also the director of the equally excellent "Europa, Europa," another based-on-real-life story about a beautiful Jewish boy who disguises himself as an elite Aryan, has such a skilled eye and taut directorial voice that I believe she is easily the finest female director working today.

The DVD contains two extras. One is an English-language onstage interview that, unfortunately, is conducted by one of those overly worshipful "Inside the Actors Studio"-Baba Wawa-Charlie Rose-types who act as though every question is freighted with meaning when actually he (she here) is asking all the wrong ones. Much more meaningful and insightful is the exchange, also in English between Holland and the survivor of the Socha’s mercy, Crystyna Chiger, who wrote the memoir on which the film is largely based.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early ’80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).

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