Link: In Darkness
Summary: This film tells the true story of Leopold Socha, a Polish sewage worker who helped several Jewish families survive the German occupation of Poland during World War II by helping them hide in the sewers for fourteen months.
Thoughts: Overall, I thought this was a great film. It doesn’t try to be didactic. The Jewish people hiding in the sewers sometimes fight with each other, dealing with their horrible situation in different ways; they’re not portrayed as being innocent little persecuted angels, but humans with their own fears and flaws. Meanwhile, Leopold, the sewage worker helping them, is not a saint; he only goes out of his way to help them begrudgingly at first, but his relationship with them grows to the point where he doesn’t mind not being paid for his help. In one powerful scene, he tries to cheer a young girl up by giving her a piggy back ride and taking her up to the streets to peer out of a manhole, just to remind her of the real world above and give her some hope. It’s a beautiful scene, because you know inside he’s scared to death too.
My only complaint, and what sort of ruined the otherwise beautiful film for me, was the dirtiness. In a movie about people struggling to survive, love scenes just don’t fit. In the bonus features, the director mentions that a survivor had told her that they, you know, quite a lot while in hiding. There wasn’t much else to do, it kept couples close, and it relieved some of the otherwise unbearable tension. Still, I don’t think it adds anything to the film; it only distracts. People also relieve themselves everyday, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in a film that’s otherwise about survival and hope.
The blu-ray’s bonus features included an interview with the only living survivor of the story, Krystyna Chiger. In the interview she mentions that her younger brother was only four or five years old when they were finally able to leave the sewers. Having lived in the sewers for over a year, the openness and brightness and crowdedness of the real world was scary for him, and he really wanted to go back to the sewers; they had become home to him. It’s only one line in the film, something like: “Momma, I want to go back.” But that’s the sort of thing you wouldn’t expect to include if it were a fiction film, yet it makes perfect sense. And it’s so tragic. He was forced to live in the sewers for long enough that he wanted to stay there. Can you imagine? For some reason, that really got to me.
Overall, very good film. I just wish it wasn’t so dirty.
Trivia: Director Agnieszka Holland also directed the 1993 classic family film, The Secret Garden, based on my great aunt’s novel. Yay, The Secret Garden! Go Aunt Fran! Woohoo! Fame and glory!