Director Agnieszka Holland's Europa Europa, which was all the art-house rage back in the early 1990s, related the true story of a Jewish boy who, during World War II, concealed his identity by pretending to be German and joining the Hitler Youth. For her latest film, Holland again turns to a fascinating footnote from that chapter in history.
An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, In Darkness centers on Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Polish laborer who happens upon a group of Jews hiding from the Nazis in the city's sewers. Socha is hardly cut from the same cloth as Oskar Schindler: He initially decides that he can only protect a handful of them rather than the whole lot, and once he has his chosen few, he takes their valuables in exchange for finding them safe corners in the sewer system and bringing them the occasional food.
It's hardly a spoiler to reveal that Socha begins to feel compassion for these unfortunates, but move beyond this expected development and what's interesting to note are the character dynamics at work. At least one Jew, a sturdy fellow named Mundek (Benno Furmann), is certain that Socha will eventually betray them, while others are more hopeful that he'll continue to do the right thing. Socha's wife Wanda (Kinga Preis, who based on her award tally must be the Meryl Streep of Poland) is sympathetic toward the Jewish race but becomes angry when she learns of her husband's risky, personal involvement. And there are several skirmishes among the Jews themselves, with the boredom of 24/7 sewer living understandably taking its toll. Holland and scripter David F. Shamoon (adapting Robert Marshall's book) drag all these various story strands into the light, yet the most striking historical nugget isn't dramatized; instead, it pops up in the closing credit scrawl, a swift blow reminding us that Fate has one helluva wicked sense of irony.