By William Wolf

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2011--IN DARKNESS  Send This Review to a Friend

There have been so many films dealing with aspects of the Holocaust and yet director Agnieszka Holland has managed to bring freshness and emotional power to a tale based on a true story. “In Darkness,” with a screenplay by David F. Shamoon based on Robert Marshall’s book “In the Sewers of Lvov,” scrutinizes the relationship between Catholic Poles and Jews during the Nazi occupation and builds a taut, harrowing and moving story about a group of Jews trying to survive and a Pole who starts out planning to pretend to rescue them for payment and then abandon them to the Germans.

The story takes on a monumental aura as the Pole begins to develop sympathy for the endangered and gradually, at great risk to himself and his family, begins to act ethnically. What emerges is a story rich in the expression of morality and conscience and the ability of individuals to change in the face of their life experience.

Furthermore, among the Jews struggling for survival, the film depicts that kind of stressful relationships that go on between people, such as marital infidelity, even under circumstances dangerously different from normal times. Such insights add to the scope of the film and deepen our understanding of the characters as human beings rather than seeing them only as types for a movie.

The horrific events, the brutality of the Nazis and the human suffering sometimes make this a tough film to watch, but it is so dramatically effective and the stakes are so well dramatized that one gets caught up in the story. The result is that “In Darkness” is a monumental film that takes its place among the best of the works that probe the dynamics of the era. Holland and all concerned have created a film in which to take pride.

The cast is particularly commendable. Robert Wieckiewicz gives a strikingly complex performance as Leopold Socha grappling with the ethical challenge as he weighs the fate of he Jews against the needs of his own family, His award-caliber acting drives and deepens the drama. Michael Zurawski is menacing as his friend Bortnik, a Ukranian officer who imposes on Socha the job of finding Jews hiding in the Lvov ghetto sewers.

Benno Fürmann excels as Mundek Margulies, one of the group of Jews in hiding. He falls in love with Klara (Agnieszka Grochowska), and in a daring exploit undertakes to rescue her sister from a concentration camp.

Much expertise is packed into the film—production design, costumes, action sequences and the overall feel of reality in the ever-perilous, brutal 1943 setting of occupied Poland. The drama is all the more vital because it is based on the real-life story of a Pole who earned a place on the list of the “Righteous” honored in Israel.

‘In Darkness” deserves to be on a must-see list of films dealing with the Holocaust. Beyond that, it is also stands as a gripping thriller. A Sony Pictures Classics release.

  

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