In Darkness

 

Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Starring Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Furmann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader, Herbert Knaup 15A cert, QFT, Belfast; Cineworld/IFI/Light House, Dublin, 142 min

WHEN TACKLING the Holocaust, film-makers often struggle to locate a story that can stand up to the enormity of the historical events. In this engrossing film, the veteran Polish director Agnieszka Holland, has, you could argue, taken the most easily digestible approach: she has focused on those who survived.

Indeed, In Darkness (one of the nominees for this year’s best foreign-language film Oscar) plays to the very same beats that underscored Schindler’s List. A man begins assisting Jews for money, but gradually faces up to his conscience and becomes a heart-felt protector. Holland does root around in some grubby, previously unexplored corners, but the film never quite breaks free from that conventional structure.

The warm, round-cheeked Robert Wieckiewicz plays Poldek Socha, a mildly anti-Semitic sewer inspector in the Polish-Ukrainian city of Lvov, who has taken to scavenging goods from the homes of deported Jews. When he encounters a party of refugees cowering in a basement, he arranges to hide them in the sewers for a fee. His wife, though less hostile to her Jewish neighbours, flies into a rage when she hears about his risky indulgence. His best pal joins in with the scheme.

Holland subtly draws in references to the fervent Catholicism of the Polish nation. She is never bold enough to make explicit connections between that faith and anti-Semitism, but, when the wretched Jews shelter beneath a busy church, one cannot but wonder why sanctuary is not being offered.

Jolanta Dylewska’s camera – alternating murky underground shots with razor-sharp digital exteriors – records some genuinely stunning images: a group of naked women being herded to their death; one of the Jewish children poking her head through a manhole to glimpse pigeons.

Unfortunately, for all the classy tech work, In Darkness ends up feeling a little bit flat. The Jewish characters are not sufficiently distinguished. The direction of Socha’s narrative arc is never in question. Only a monster could fail to be moved by the final scene. But one never feels that any significant risks are being taken.

DONALD CLARKE