IN DARKNESS (18): On Special Release Friday 16th MarchIn Agnieszka Holland’s press notes, the director queries whether “everything has now been said on [the Holocaust]” and why subsequent atrocities have yet to yield a sufficient answer as to what made these crimes possible.For all its good intentions and evocative mise-en-scene, In Darkness fails to contribute anything new to an arguably weary debate, its principal themes tiresomely explored in countless other Shoah narratives.Sewer worker, part-time thief and casual anti-Semite, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), is eking out an existence in Nazi-occupied Lvov when the imminent liquidation of the Jewish ghetto offers him both a perverse business opportunity and the chance to be an unlikely hero. As in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, Socha’s initial motivations are far from benevolent, only agreeing to hide his “Yids” in the labyrinth network of underground drains once they’ve paid above the going rate offered by the authorities for revealing their whereabouts. However, when his dependants inevitably run out of money and the brutality of the regime strikes unnervingly close to home, Socha is finally compelled to act on moral grounds and is therefore redeemed, permitting the audience to root for him in the final third.
Considering In Darkness is based on Robert Marshall’s “In the Sewers of Lvov”, itself a depiction of real events, it is puzzling how the characters remain so inauthentic, as if merely jobbing from one Holocaust film to another. Socha’s prejudices are shelved without much conviction or psychological exposition while the supporting cast suffer from chronic underdevelopment. Scenes are recycled from so many different sources they begin to border on parody; an officer casually shoots a camp inmate while an orchestra plays classical music; a child’s careless banter in front of a Nazi official almost exposes Socha’s clandestine activities; and the claustrophobia of their subterranean existence threatens to drive the Jews to self-destruction.
With a title that refers to both the literal space occupied by the Jews and the existential nightmare Europe found itself in during WWII, one would have hoped for a deeper probing of the human condition or at least less stereotypical representation. Unfortunately, whilst there is little to find fault with structurally (the conditions of the sewers are vividly portrayed and the acting is competent if unexceptional), In Darkness is hindered ultimately not by what it seeks to understand but the manner in which it conveys its message.