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In Darkness (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 3, 2012 by  



“In Darkness” is another magnificent film in the oeuvre of filmmaker Agnieszka Holland.   A film with an incredible message of hope, persistence and the human will to survive.  Highly recommended!

Images courtesy of © 2011 Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv GmbH, Studio Filmowe Zebra and Hidden Films Inc. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: In Darkness

FILM RELEASE: 2011

DURATION: 143 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Defiition (widescreen 1:85:1), Polish 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English SDH, English

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: R (Violence, Disturbing Images, Sexuality, Nudity and Language)

Release Date: June 12, 2012

Directed by Agnieszka Holland

Based on the book “In the Sewers of Lvov: A Heroic Story of Survival from the Holocaust” by Robert Marshall

Screenplay by David F. Shamoon

Produced by Leander Carell, Wojciech Danowski, Marc-Daniel Dichant, Eric Jordan, Patrick Knippel, Juliusz Machulski, Steffen Reuter, Paul Stephens

Executive Producer: Christoph Fisser, Charlie Woebcken

Line Producer: Andrzej Besztak, Marc-Daniel Dichant

Music by Antoni Lazarkiwicz

Cinematography by Jolanta Dylewska

Edited by Mike Czarnecki

Castin by Wronika Migon

Production Design by Erwin Prib

Art Direction by Joris Hamann, Niels Muller, Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska

Set Decoration by Mark Rosinski

Costume Design by Jagna Janicka, Nadine Kremeier, Katarzyna Lewisnka

Starring:

Robert Wickiewicz as Leopold Socha

Benno Furmann as Mundek Margulies

Agnieszka Grochowska as Klara Keller

Maria Schrader as Paulina Chiger

Herbert Knaup as Ignacy Chiger

Marcin Bosak as Yanek Grossman

Krzystof Skonieczny as Stefek Wroblewski

Milla Bankowciz as Krystyna Chiger

Oliwer Stanczak as Pawel Chiger

Kinga PReis as Wanda Socha

From acclaimed director Agnieszka Holland, In Darkness is based on a true story. Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief in Lvov, a Nazi occupied city in Poland, one day encounters a group of Jews trying to escape the liquidation of the ghetto. He hides them for money in the labyrinth of the town’s sewers beneath the bustling activity of the city above. What starts out as a straightforward and cynical business arrangement turns into something very unexpected, the unlikely alliance between Socha and the Jews as the enterprise seeps deeper into Socha’s conscience. The film is also an extraordinary story of survival as these men, women and children all try to outwit certain death during 14 months of ever increasing and intense danger.

One of the heroes to emerge from Poland during World War II was a man named Leopold Socha, a Polish sewer worker from Lwow who used his knowledge of the city’s sewer systems to shelter the Jews from Nazi Germany and the Ukranians who collaborated with them.

The story of Leopold Socha would be written by Robert Marshall in 1990 in the book “In the Swers of Lvov” which received a film adaptation courtesy of director Agnieszka Holland and screenwriter David F. Shamoon.

Considered as one of the most prominent Polish filmmakers, Agnieszka Holland had worked on films such as “Europa Europa”, “Olivier, Olivier” and “The Secret Garden”. In America, she had worked on TV series such as “The Wire” and “Cold Case” and also collaborated with Krzsztof Kieslowski for the screenplay on the film “Three Colors: Blue”.

With her work with “In Darkness”, the film would receive rave reviews from film critics worldwide and would be one of the five nominees up for “Best Foreign Language Film” at the 84th Academy Awards.

And now “In Darkness” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Before discussing “In Darkness”, its important for me to briefly begin with a few details of what took place during the “Occupation of Poland”.

In 1939, western Poland was annexed by Germany and over millions of Poles were expelled and headed out eat, while 600,000 Germans and 400,000 from the Third Reich settled in Poland.  The Germanization of Polish territories would lead to the deporting and extermination of Jews in Poland.   Poles that were wealthy landowners, clergymen and government officials were murdered in mass executions or sent to concentration camps.  Millions of Jews were killed in the genocide, many women were raped and killed and children (who had Aryan racial characteristics – blonde hair and blue eyes) were taken from their parents for Germanization.

There are many more details of what happened in Poland but in the context of the film “In Darkness”, the families who had money tried to escape from the Nazi persecution, knowing that they were the first to be targeted.

Because the Germans were giving awards for those who had information of Jews, a small group ended up turning to a Polish sewer worker named Leopold Socha (as portrayed by Robert Wickiewicz), primarily because Leopold was the only person who had great knowledge of the sewer system and where they can be hidden.

Leopold is a father trying to raise his family which include his wife Wanda (as portrayed by Kinga Preis) and his daughter Stefcia (as portrayed by Zofia Pieczynska) and with many Jews desperate for his help, he charged the Jews and whether it be money or jewelry, as long as they pay up, he would help them (which in turn, would help his family).

But when more and more Jews were taken from their homes to go to concentration camps or are being shot by the Nazi’s, nearly two dozen people meet with Leopold to stay and hide in the sewer system.  But staying in those tunnels is a hard life.  Hardly any food and living amongst the rats, these individuals had no choice.

To make things even worse, Leopold knows that he can only help 10 people and these people will need to pay.  And the only family that can pay are the Chiger family including two young children, Klara Keller (as portrayed by Agnieszka Grochowska), her boyfriend Mundek Margulies (as portrayed by Benno Furmann).

But the more tragedy that Leopold is exposed to but also seeing the fragility of the families, especially since there are children involved, Leopold puts his life (and his family’s life) on the line to protect the Jews that he is hiding underground in the sewers.

But how long will Leopold be able to protect them?

VIDEO:

“In Darkness” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1).  While there are several scenes that are shot outdoors, the majority of the scenes are shot inside the sewer system or inside the home of Leopold Socha. So, one can expect to see a lot of black and very little light.

For the shots in the sewer, black levels are nice and deep and just enough lighting from flash lights or lanterns to feature the family members in hiding.  There is a good amount of clarity to show the grime on the characters, close ups are highly detailed and outdoor sequences looked very good, I didn’t detect any banding or artifacts while watching this film.  Overall, video quality was great!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“In Darkness” is presented in Polish 5.1 DTS-HD MA.  The musical soundtrack is wonderful while dialogue is crystal clear, there was good use of surround to showcase the ambiance.  From the water drips in the sewer, rats running through the tunnels to the sounds of a cathedral or noises from outdoors, ambiance plays a big part of this film.   There are also films of gunshots and mine blasts but “In Darkness” is primarily a dialogue-driven film and for this film, the lossless soundtrack is perfect!

Subtitles are in English and English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“In Darkness” comes with the following special features:

  • An Evening with Agnieszka Holland – (29:23) A moderated Q&A featuring Anne Thompson fielding audience questions to filmmaker Agnieszka Holland answers questions regarding the film, the production and post-production of the film and more.
  • In Light: A Conversation with Agnieszka Holland and Krystyna Chiger – (28:01) A fantastic interview between filmmaker Agnieszka Holland and one of the Jews saved by Leopold Socha, Krystyna Chiger.  A fantastic interview featuring deleted scenes but also the film festival in which Holland introduces Chiger to the audience.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:02) The theatrical trailer for “In Darkness”.

I’ve watched quite a few films within the last year that dealt with Nazi occupation and genocide but I have never watched a film like “In Darkness” and because it is a true story and that the sole survivor of this entire experience, Krystyna Chiger, is still alive and validated Agnieszka Holland’s film as being authentic (even though Holland never knew that there was a survivor from the sewers of Lvov).

The opening moments of the film and seeing many Jewish people, families, young children being gunned down, to naked women running through the forests from their Nazi aggressors and then seeing a shot of all women massacred, to the many men who were forced to crawl like dogs to their camps, there are images that resonates strongly within you.  Images that bring Holland’s film to life.

But through this film, we see the journey of Leopold Socha, while a Polish sewer worker and he and his wife were both awarded the titled of “Righteous among the Nations” (an honorific title for non-Jews who risked thier lives during the Holocaust to save Jews) by Yad Vashem in Israel, the film shows how Socha’s original desire was to make money off the Jews because of his knowledge of the sewer system.  He is a flawed character but at the same time, for anyone who has a heart, there is redemption.  Losha was a man who brought these people hope, even at the risk of him or his family being killed.

We see the change from a man who wanted to use the Jews he hid to take care of his family but then a change when he sees how fragile they are, the stench of death that surrounds the city and seeing close and personal but learning that he had the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of these 10 individuals and also the children that were with them.

While other films have shown much more dread when it comes to the hiding of Jews from the Nazi’s, “In Darkness” shows us the will of those wanting to survive but also those who were not willing to stay in the sewers and would rather take their chances of fate in the camps.

Holland goes to great lengths is showing how those hiding in the sewers lived a life of uncertainty, unsanitary conditions, always knowing that the Nazi’s and Polish collaborators were always going to be searching in the sewers for any Jews, but also showing how loved one can be intimate, even when there were people around in close proximity, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem.  And we see many heartbreaking moments as families are separated from families and one pregnant woman among those hiding in the sewer, having to make a decision of what to do with her newborn.

There is no doubt that “In Darkness” is a heartbreaking film, a powerful film.  Yes, there are other films that goes even further in showing us the tragedy of the Holocaust, films such as “Schindler’s List” that are extremely powerful and heartbreaking, but in the case of “In Darkness”, it’s a heartbreaking but moving film that is not only based on a true story, it’s a different take of one man who risked his life to save a group of people and not banal at all.

Was there anything that I disliked or had some doubts about the film?  Probably one instance but not sure if its fact or fiction.  It revolved around Mundek Marguilies wanting to see if his girlfriend (or wife), Kiara Keller’s sister is alive in the camps.  Kiara’s sister was one of the people who went into the sewers but was the one who was forced to go inside, when she didn’t want to be there.  She was the first to run away from the sewers and take her chances and was taken to a concentration camp.

In the scene, Mundek leaves the sewers to attempt to bring Kiara’s sister back to the sewers, so he sneaks into a concentration camp with other men under tight security by the Nazis.  Because of the many armed Nazi soldiers all around, I’m not sure if he was able to go in and escape the camp so easily (otherwise many others would have done the same).  So, it made me wonder if this actually did happen or not.    That was probably the only instance where I questioned the film.

As for the Blu-ray release, “In Darkness” is a film that looks amazing on Blu-ray.  Picture quality is great, the lossless audio is good but this is a film that deals with ambiance from within the sewer system, so dialogue is clear, you can hear water running through the surround channels and surrounding noises from the city that can be heard underground.  And as for the special features, the one-on-one discussion between Krystyna Chiger and Agnieszka Holland was fantastic, especially when you find out that Holland never knew there were any survivors while making this film, until after… she found out the little girl she had featured in her film was still alive.  And the featurette does show Holland introducing Chiger to an audience for its first screening.

Overall, “In Darkness” is another magnificent film in the oeuvre of filmmaker Agnieszka Holland.   A film with an incredible message of hope, persistence and the human will to survive.  Highly recommended!

 

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