In Darkness

Nazi Occupied Poland Circa 1943


09 December 2011| No Comments on In Darkness     by Sean Chavel


Another Holocaust guilt trip designed to be an awards trap. In Darkness is the survival story of Polish Jews hiding in the sewers for more than a year during World War II. Yet what is disconcerting right away is that director Agnieszka Holland has us playing guessing games in the first act of the picture. What year are we in and how long have the Nazis occupied Poland? What is the story behind the opening break-in? What is the context behind Jews trying to deceive other Jews? What is it exactly with Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) and his expertise on sewers? And, curiously, why don’t the Jews at least talk about travelling through the sewer system to escape outside the city? A docudrama about the Holocaust is not the time for a filmmaker to be playing games with the audience. Tell us upfront, don’t have us furrowing for essential information for a half hour into the film.

“In Darkness” is nearly two and a half hours long, and feels inevitably stifled in not so much danger but in misery for much of the time. The misery in the darkness is alleviated by only a lamplight or two. It deserves props for lighting techniques, I suppose, but the whole film will feel too long if it stays down there. Behest to find a traditional narrative, it goes above ground to envelop us in Socha’s dilemmas in gathering food and necessities for the Jews. Of course, he is getting paid by the Jews with their life savings, and as circumstances demand, they tell Socha about their hidden jewels and heirlooms as means of payment.

Little by little, we get to know the personalities of the people in hiding, but sadly, these are lives of stripped dignity. One man finally makes an exodus, being deliberately rounded up by Nazi SS so he can enter the Janowska concentration camp to find his lost sister who had been shipped there months prior. The concentration camp scene, brief as it is, is as realistic and uncompromising as “Schindler’s List” (1993) or “The Grey Zone” (2001).

Over the course of many scenes, Socha is able to get his wife (Kinga Preis) to support his generosity for the people he bears. Saving human lives is more important than saving money for themselves, they finally see. Their story is ultimately a good one, if strained too long to arrive at such messages. But mostly, we are in a wallow. Only when, in the last half hour, is Socha deemed suspicious for being a Jew sympathizer does the film generate suspense since the well-being for everybody depends on him. The flash-flood sequence is horrifying. Then the Russian army liberating the city of Lvov comes quickly and is roughshod over. “In Darkness” honestly wrenches the heart, but it leaves you resentment for a director who has lost her compass in priorities.

145 Minutes. Unrated. Polish in English subtitles.


Film Cousins: “Schindler’s List” (1993); “The Grey Zone” (2001); “The Pianist” (2002); “Rosenstrasse” (2003, Germany).

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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