out of Five
Running time: 143
Impressively directed and superbly written, this is a grimly harrowing, powerfully emotional drama with a terrific central performance from Robert Wieckiewicz.
What's it all about?
Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Film and directed by Agnieszka Holland, In Darkness is based on a true story and stars Robert Wieckiewicz as Leopold 'Poldek' Socha, a working class husband in Nazi-occupied Poland who supports his wife (Kinga Preis as Wanda) and young daughter (Zofia Pieczynska as Stefcia) by working in the sewers with his best friend Szczepek (Krzysztof Skonieczny). When the Nazis begin systematically clearing out the Jewish ghettos, Poldek and Szczepek agree to help a group of Jews – for a price - by hiding them underground in the sewers, but things quickly become difficult, particularly when Poldek's soldier friend Bortnik (Michal Zurawski) starts sniffing around.
Wieckiewicz is terrific as Poldek and his gradual transformation from opportunistic wheeler-dealer to emotionally involved, de facto resistance fighter is both convincingly handled and powerfully moving. Similarly, the excellent script fleshes out almost all the supporting characters in interesting ways and there's strong work from Benno Furmann (as the charismatic group leader), Herbert Knaup (as wealthy Mr Chiger, who agrees to pay Poldek his 500 zloty a day) and Kinga Preis, while Zurawski is effective as Bortnik, playing him as a layered and conflicted character (there's a Cusack-like sadness in his eyes) rather than a textbook bad guy.
The production design is extremely impressive and Holland doesn't skimp on the grisly details – an underground birth sequence is particularly harrowing, while the casually meted out Nazi atrocities above ground are the equal of anything in Schindler's List (a close cousin to the film in more ways than one). Holland also has an eye for haunting moments that will stay with you, such as a surreal early scene where Poldek and Szczepek witness a group of naked women running through a forest pursued by Nazis, only to hear the sounds of machine-gun fire moments later.
Given that a large part of the film is set underground in a tiny space, it's no surprise that Holland creates a powerfully claustrophobic atmosphere, though the film's title is a little too literal at times, with lengthy sequences taking place in almost total darkness so you can't tell what's going on; as a result, the film drags a little in the middle section.
Harrowing to watch but emotionally rewarding, In Darkness is a superbly directed, powerfully written wartime drama with a terrific central performance from Robert Wieckiewic. Recommended.