Much as we may not want to admit it, it’s easy to feel one’s compassion flagging at the prospect of another Holocaust drama. The imperative of remembrance is always with us, yet somehow the visual iconography remains both daunting and over-familiar, presenting a not inconsiderable challenge for anyone trying to persuade us there’s still something fresh to say. Chronicling wartime events in (and under) the Polish city of Lvov, this Oscar-nominated drama uncovers an incredible true story of courage and humanity. What’s distinctive and worthwhile about Agnieszka Holland’s film, though, is how it sees the diverse shades within that humanity, eschewing the moral absolutes which – for understandable reasons – have dominated this cinematic territory.
So, when the Nazis send in brutal Ukrainian special forces to exterminate Lvov’s Jews, Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz, spot-on throughout), a sewer inspector with a pragmatic sideline in burglary, at first stands idly by. Indeed, when desperate Jewish fugitives seek refuge in the sewers, he extorts a fee from them to keep it secret. Their horrendous living conditions in turn do little to heal the class divisions limiting their unity. All of this is grimly believable, so that when the green shoots of decency eventually spring up, they do so in a way that is far from hackneyed, slightly mysterious, and thus all the more affecting. Convincing in its detail, nail-chewing in its mounting suspense, In Darkness is illuminating, provocative and bracingly unsentimental. It positively clamours for your attention.