Feminists in Focus: In Darkness on the Shortlist

In Darkness, a film by Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Europa, Europa), is based on the true story of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Catholic sewer worker and petty thief who, though not especially fond of Jews, is willing to court danger in 1943 Nazi-occupied Lvov in order to make some easy cash, and hides a group of Jews underground for over a year.

Jolanta Dylewska’s startlingly beautiful color cinematography lends a heartbreaking immediacy and vividness to all the lives depicted, and the film’s photographic feat creates a powerful contrast between the above ground light and the underground darkness, conveying more than a metaphorical moral gravitas. Shot in Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, German, Yiddish and even a little Hebrew–all with English subtitles–the film feels thankfully un-Hollywood, and it depicts a humanity replete with kindness and selfishness, cruelty and courage,fortitude and desperation, hope and goodness, with the Jewish characters, too, shown in all their human frailty.

There were moments in the film when I wanted to cover my eyes, like one of the characters who covered her own eyes and her daughter’s, but however troubling and terror-filled, this compelling film tells an important story we may never understand, but ignore at our peril. As the director noted, it continues to echo in different places in the world, from Rwanda to Bosnia.