THE OVERWHELMING REALISM OF “IN DARKNESS”
Agnieszka Holland’s “In Darkness,” nominated this year for Best Foreign Language Film, is based on the true story of Poldek Socha, a Polish man who helped a group of Jews to escape mass murder in the sewers of German-occupied Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine). Holland has already directed films about the Holocaust; she has made clear, in interviews about this one, that her greatest concern in presenting this story of heroism was realism. She has succeeded, perhaps better than anyone else.
Although admired here for her work on “The Wire” and other American television series, Holland is Polish (her paternal grandparents were murdered as Jews during the Holocaust) and this is an Eastern European film. Holland assumes that viewers will have some sense of where Lwów was, what it had already suffered, who its peoples were, what languages they spoke. By the time the Jews moved into the sewers of Lwów, the city’s inhabitants had been pressed downward for years. Lwów, a Polish city in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, was occupied by the Red Army in 1939, as Stalin claimed the lands granted by Hitler under the terms of the German-Soviet alliance that began the war. The Soviets then deported Jews who had fled to the city from German-occupied Poland, as well as Ukrainian political activists and educated Poles.