Starring: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fuermann, Agnieszka Grochowska, Maria Schrader
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Category: III (Polish, German, Yiddish and Ukrainian)
Andrzej Wajda's 1957 war drama Kanal ends with the image of an iron grid, the one obstacle that dashes the hopes of the film's resistance-fighter protagonists of surviving their ordeal within Warsaw's underground sewers during the second world war.
Nearly six decades on, a similar grille appears towards the end of Agnieszka Holland's latest film - but it actually helps its lead character, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz, below), to defeat the one villain who stands in the way of his mission of bringing to safety a group of Jews he helps hide within the labyrinthine drainage system beneath the city of Lvov.
Based on the real-life accomplishments of Socha - a wartime sewer worker described in the film as the 'Polack Moses' - In Darkness is certainly more upbeat than Wajda's work. The difference in tone comes down to the circumstances around which the films were made.
Wajda's Kanal can be seen as a venting space for his frustration of his homeland falling under the Soviet Union's shackles after the war, while In Darkness emerges at a time when the Poles, now freed from the sphere of influence of others, are keen to re-evaluate their own independent spirit even during its days of foreign occupation.
Despite being a member of Poland's dissident Cinema of Moral Anxiety in communist Poland in the 1970s and 80s, Holland has since reinvented herself as a more mainstream operator, as she's now probably more well-known for directing episodes of US serials such as The Wire and Treme. This perhaps explains why In Darkness begins with an edge but then descends into a feet-dragging exercise jam-packed with melodrama; while evoking engagingly the horrors of 'Socha's Jews', as well as the gradual transformation of the lead character from a cynical petty thief to a conscientious individual braving the worst so as to rectify the wrongdoings committed by his anti-Semitic compatriots.
Holland's film is well-made and well-intentioned, but its emphasis on well-ornamented storytelling tropes undermine what is a tale of desperate living in a deadly hell.
In Darkness opens today