“In Darkness,” Poland’s submission for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar, is a movie that drives home the abomination of the Holocaust in a freshly chilling way.
The story, based on true events as recalled by survivors in a 1991 book, begins in a Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Lvov in 1943, where occupying German soldiers and their Ukrainian allies are slaughtering men, women, and children in the streets with the casual barbarity that was a hallmark of Nazi derangement.
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Polish director Agnieszka Holland presents some of this depravity (in one scene, a Ukrainian officer takes a break from shooting Jews to exchange greetings with a friend, then happily returns to his hideous work) in an almost offhand way, as part of the day-to-day scenery in that awful time and place. This slight distancing serves to deepen our horror.
The central character is a sewer worker named Socha (Robert Wieckjewicz), a Polish Catholic who moonlights as a burglar in order to sustain his small family. Like many of his neighbors, Socha has idly concluded that the Lvov Jews must somehow deserve their fate; he has other worries of his own. Then, one night, he and a fellow burglar glimpse a group of naked and terrified Jewish women being herded through the forest by soldiers. After they disappear from view, the two men move on–and before long come upon those women again, now shot dead and clumped in piles among the trees. Later, at home with his family, Socha listens as his wife (Kinga Preis) expresses a Christian empathy for the Jews of Lvov, and is surprised to learn from her that Jesus, too, was a Jew. We feel a small light begin to kindle in Socha’s mind.
Read the full review at Reason.com