Tzivi reviews In Darkness

Poland’s candidate for the 2012 “Best Foreign Language Film” Oscar, In Darkness, is a harrowing, fact-based account of Jews from the Lvov ghetto hiding underground for over a year with assistance from sewer-worker Leopold Socha and his wife Magdalena.

I first saw Agnieszka Holland’s newest film in November on the Opening Night of the 2012 PFFA (Polish Film Festival in America), and even though the PFFA folks didn’t start the film until well after 10 PM (after a reception and after introducing the whole PFFA 2012 team and after a bit of music from members of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band), I was still riveted for the whole runtime (145 minutes!) and fully awake for the Q&A which followed, so suffice it to say this is one damn powerful film!!!

Holland has a long list of credits on IMDb (with films and TV shows in both English and Polish), but she is best-known for her two prior Holocaust films Angry Harvest from 1985, and Europa, Europa from 1990, both of which were also Oscar Nominees.

What all three films share is an intimate understanding of Poland’s Holocaust experience. As the child of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Holland was born into knowledge of both sides of this fraught relationship, and with uncompromising intelligence and unparalleled skill, she has created great works of art that both pierce the heart and prick the conscience.  Quite simply, Holland shows us that even in the darkest sewer, there are no “good guys” and “bad guys,” only human beings in all their multitudinous shades of gray. 

In Darkness is anchored by actor Robert Wieckiewicz’s superlative performance as “Leopold Socha.” I first saw Wieckiewicz in Jan Kidawa-Blonski’s Little Rose which played at our 2010 Chicago International Film Festival but unfortuately has yet to be released in English on DVD. Wieckiewicz won “Eages” for Best Actor both times at the annual Polish Film Awards, so maybe I lucked into the two best performances he’s ever given (see his long list on IMDb), but even so, just on the basis of these two films, I’m prepared to call Wieckiewicz one of the greatest actors currently working on the world cinema scene today. He has a miraculous range of emotions; an uncanny ability to be violent one moment and tender the next. And because of Wieckiewicz, the fact that some Jews lived to tell this story (because if they hadn’t, then we likely wouldn’t know a thing about it) becomes even more of a mystery… not less…

I don’t mean to slight any of the actors who play Jews in this drama, they are all excellent, but the other “star” of In Darkness is cinematographer Jolanta Dylewska who somehow turns the sewers under Lvov into a realm filled with grace, warmed by an inner radiance that must be seen to be believed.

Robert Wieckiewicz as “Leopold Socha,” with Kinga Preis as his wife “Wanda.”  The Sochas are honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” on the Yad Vashem website. (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)

Click HERE for a photo of me with Holland at the reception which preceeded the PFFA screening. A dream come true! And that handsome dude in the blue shirt standing right behind me? That’s my RB 🙂

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