“In Darkness”: How a few Polish Jews escaped the Nazis

When the Nazis murdered most of the population of Lvov, Poland, and put the rest in a death camp, a small group survived by hiding 14 months in the city’s sewers. They bought the assistance of a sewer worker and part-time burglar named Koldek by paying him everything they had. A book, In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall, tells the story, but the movie brings you right down there with them.

What would you find if you had to take your children and a few assorted people down into the sewer to live? You’d find rotten odors and rats, of course. The film provides us with more than enough of both. What would you do while you were down there, other than go raving crazy? Apparently, you’d have a lot of grimy, desperate sex, according to the film. At first the sex scenes seem a little excessive and possibly exploitative. But then, I asked myself, “How would people take comfort when they had nothing, were forced to live in the most degrading conditions, and were completely deprived of any kind of amenities? Sex, the only recreation available to them, seems like a logical answer.

What kind of people would live in those sewers for so long? The answer to that question is the most interesting contribution of the film, for the people were as ordinary as you or me. Koldek, the mercenary savior, was as plain as anybody. The heroes weren’t heroic, the virgins weren’t pristine, and there were no violins or waltzes. Everybody concentrated on surviving, and so did we in the audience.

My movie buddy and I have seen dozens of movies about Nazis and about the amazing courage of the survivors, but we never saw one in which all the characters rang so true and seemed so natural. In Darkness should be seen for that reason, even if for nothing else.

Movie review
In Darkness
Directed by Agnieszka
Polish, German, Yiddish and Ukrainian with English subtitles
2011, 143 minutes, Rated R