Directed by: Agnieszka Holland Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader Running Time: 2 hrs 25 mins Rating: R Release Date: February 17, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: A sewer worker (Wieckiewicz) tries to hide a group of Jews in the sewers during the Nazi occupation of the Polish city Lvov.
WHO'S IT FOR?: In Darkness rewards patient moviegoers with a different and unforgettable true story about survival during the Holocaust. Curious viewers should not be discouraged by the running time.
Many movies have been made about the Holocaust. So many, in fact, that it's become a bit of a punchline in the movie world concerning a film's potential appeal. Just set it during the days of the Nazi occupation, throw in some moody lighting, and start gunning it towards Oscar gold.
Yet with In Darkness, a nominee for this year's "Best Foreign Film" Oscar, we are not dealing with a sucker-punching story of survival, or a manipulative saga with goals of crushing sadness. This is not a story of survival during the Holocaust that we have heard before. Considering its distinct lighting (or lack thereof) it's not really even a movie we've seen before.
In Darkness is the type of film that makes effective use out of the obstacles it sets for itself. For example - the running time. It's a little daunting; even more so when you assume the mountings of emotional darkness such a story will be full of. Yet, the length of the movie works to its advantage. The film doesn't have to rush its chapters concerning the difficulties of survival, but lets these moments breathe (with what little air the movie's tangible claustrophobia will provide). While we are stuck in the sewers with them, anticipating our own liberation from the tension of this movie, small characters are able to come to life as more than just a gloomy statistic.
Agnieszka Holland's film also succeeds with its strong aesthetic of using heavy darkness, something not seen in any movies at all. With the usage of single flashlights, and sometimes no light at all, we are given a strong feeling of the emptiness of the sewers, and the unpredictability of the fate for those trying to live in such conditions. While the movie's spaced out pacing does allow for a general grasp on the layout of the sewers, there is still a lurking fear as to what will happen next.
Working with such heartbreaking events and characters, In Darkness never seeps into weepy melodrama. Instead, it stands firm in a disquieting realness, one in which we can tell that director Holland is more concerned with accurate sharing a unique story more than selling tickets.
Among many Holocaust films, In Darkness is one of the more involving with its experience. And though the subgenre sometimes lends itself to bleak retread, we can be glad that this touching true story is able to see the light of day.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10