In Darkness is the Polish entry for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars on Sunday and those lucky enough to get a ticket to JDIFF’s sold out screening were certainly not disappointed.
The film is set in the Nazi occupied Polish city of Lviv. It follows Poldek who works maintaining the sewers of the city and is also a part time burglar. When he comes across some Jews who have tunneled into the sewers as a means of escape from the Germans he sees an opportunity to make money.
He agrees to hide the escapees for 500 zloty a day but the money soon becomes irrelevant as the Catholic Poldek will risk everything to safeguard “his Jews”.
Robert Wieckiewicz plays Poldek and it’s a magnificent performance. He must convey to us the normality of Catholics distrusting Jews at the time and takes us through his total transformation as he sees the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis on their fellow man.
Some Polish people have objected to the way they are portrayed believing it to be an unfair reflection on their character but I see nothing for them to fear as we are a given a realistic heartfelt example of what it must have been like to live under Nazi occupation. One of the strengths of the film is that it dispels so many stereotypes on all sides.
The band of Jews, for want of a better term, are all expertly played giving us a complete range of human characters worthy of any disaster movie. From alpha male Ignacy (Herbert Knaup) to cabin fever nut Yanek (Marcin Bosak) and the star performance of Mundek (Benno Furmann) who plays a sort of Lt. Milo (Catch-22 you philistines) who can get you anything but has far more scruples than the others.
The director Agnieszka Holland creates an incredibly claustrophic atomosphere enabling us to try, in some small way, to imagine what it must have been like to live in such dirty, cramped and rat infested conditions for over 18 months. She gives such humanity to the characters and although the film is incedibly bleak at times, Holland realises that they were not only thinking of death in their time below the city.
Our screening of the film was topped off with a Q&A from Holland and she was able to give us an insight into the production and trials and tribulations when three countries are involved in releasing the film. She talked of her nervousness ahead of the Oscars as, although she was nominated before, she is now representing her beloved Poland. All in attendance no doubt wish her luck and will have their fingers crossed, powodzenia Agnieszka!
Poland / Directed By: Agnieszka Holland / Written By: David F. Shamoon / Starring: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska / 145min / Drama / Release: 10 February 2012 (US/Canada), 16 March 2012 (UK/Irl)