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Blu-ray Reviews

In Darkness Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 2 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

Richard Gallagher


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Posted June 16 2012 - 12:59 PM

One might think that after more than 70 years it would be difficult to find a new story to tell about World War II. Polish director Agnieszka Holland has chosen a familiar story, the liquidation of Jews living in the ghettos of Poland, to recount the little-known and extraordinary tale of ghetto-dwellers who tried to escape the Nazis by living and hiding in the sewers of the city of Lwów. In Darkness received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and will not soon be forgotten by anyone who views it.


In Darkness

Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Year: 2011
Rated: R
Program Length: 145 minutes                Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: Polish 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English, English SDH

The Program

They're offering rewards for turning in Jews. Some people are making a pile.

One might think that after more than 70 years it would be difficult to find a new story to tell about World War II. Polish director Agnieszka Holland has chosen a familiar story, the liquidation of Jews living in the ghettos of Poland, to recount the little-known and extraordinary tale of ghetto-dwellers who tried to escape the Nazis by living and hiding in the sewers of the city of Lwów. In Darkness received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film and will not soon be forgotten by anyone who views it.

The film was made primarily for Polish audiences and assumes that viewers have a certain level of knowledge about the back story. After Germany quickly conquered Poland in 1939, the country was partitioned and portions of eastern Poland, including Lwów, were ceded to the Soviet Union pursuant to the terms of the non-aggression pact signed just before the outbreak of the war. Many Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland fled to Lwów, believing that they would be treated better by the Soviets. The Soviet Union occupied the city until Hitler broke the pact and invaded in the summer of 1941. Non-Jewish Poles and Ukrainians had to endure food shortages and many indignities under Nazi rule, but they were well-off compared to the city's Jews, who were forced to live in a cramped, unsanitary ghetto. By 1943 many of the Jews could see the writing on the wall and began exploring ways to get away from the Nazis before it was too late. I mention these facts because the film neglects them, and it is helpful to be oriented as to the time and place where the action takes place.

In Darkness focuses on the true story (adapted from the book "In the Sewers of Lwów" by Robert Marshall) of Polish Jews who decide to dig a hole from the basement of their building to the city sewers below. When they break through and drop into the sewers to explore, they are discovered by two Polish sewer workers, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) and his subordinate, Szczepek (Krzysztof Skonieczny). The wealthiest of the Jews, Ignacy Chiger (Herbert Knaup), offers to pay the sewer men if they will help them hide when the time inevitably comes. Szczepek is reluctant because they can receive a tidy reward from the Nazis for turning the Jews in. However, Socha has bigger ideas - why not take the money from the Jews now, when they can always turn them in to the Germans for a reward later?

One day the Nazis enter the ghetto and begin to gun down every Jew they see. The residents of the Chiger's building rush to the apartment and begin their escape into the sewers. The sewers are, of course, dark, damp, smelly and rat-infested, but Socha has worked in them for years and knows them better than anyone. However, after getting the refugees to a temporary hiding place, Socha realizes that there are too many of them for him to provide for. He picks out a small group of adults and children and leads them to a better hiding place while the rest are left to fend for themselves. Socha and Szczepek then begin to provide the "Yids" with food, lighting, and reading material, but their sense of security is short-lived when the Nazis discover that there are Jews hiding in the sewers. In the meantime, Socha's cynical attitude toward the Jews begins to soften as the German atrocities continue to mount up.

Director Holland appears to have strayed little from the true story. The Jews in hiding are not lionized. They squabble and scuffle, they exhibit jealousies, and they understandably are adversely affected by the dank, claustrophobic conditions under which they are forced to live. They do not know whether they can fully trust Socha, but they have no choice in the matter. Except for an occasional peek outside, they are forced to remain in their underground prison and wait for the day when the war will end.

The style of In Darkness is reminiscent of Das Boot, inasmuch as most of the action takes place in dark, confined spaces. Socha expertly navigates the maze of tunnels, a maze which make it easy to get lost but also make it difficult for the German soldiers and Ukrainian police to find the people hiding there. In Darkness is a first-class production but has two significant drawbacks. One is the absence of historical context and exposition (without looking it up, a viewer would be forgiven for believing that the final act takes place in 1945, when in fact it is the summer of 1944). The other is that the Jewish characters are not well-defined prior to the time that they flee into the sewers - consequently, Socha's decision about which Jews he will save and which will be left on their own does not resonate as strongly as it should. I would also be interested in knowing how they managed to keep their flashlights working.

Those caveats aside, this is a very powerful film which celebrates the ability of human beings to remain strong and hopeful in the face of unthinkable adversity. The acting is uniformly excellent and the filming locations are astonishingly realistic. It also is an interesting character study of Socha, who at the outset of the film is an anti-Semite who dabbles in petty burglary on the side. It certainly would have been easier for him to choose the path of least resistance and do what too many other Poles did, which was to betray their Jewish countrymen to the Nazis.

The Video

The 1.85:1 1080p transfer is remarkably strong, considering the conditions under which it was shot. The images are sharp and highly-detailed. Colors are muted, sewers not being especially colorful surroundings. The exterior shots also tend to be gray, with bright sunshine reserved for a few particularly significant scenes. Shadow detail and black levels are particularly important in a film such as this, and In Darkness receives high marks on both counts.

The Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio is exceptional. The surround channels are effectively used to give the viewer the sense of being immersed in the sewers, although those who are squeamish about rodents may feel uncomfortable with the sounds of rats scurrying about. There are a number of scenes involving explosions and machine gun fire, and those sound effects are very realistic. The English subtitles are at the bottom of the frame and they are very clear and easy to read.

The Supplements

The Blu-ray of In Darkness contains two featurettes which are somewhat repetitive.

The more interesting of the two, "In Light," is a 28-minute interview by director Agnieszka Holland with Krystyna Chiger, the only living survivor of the Lwów sewers. Remarkably, the director had no idea that Ms. Chiger was still alive while the filming was being done, but she was able to give her a private screening before the final cuts were made. The interview also includes several brief cuts and alternate scenes which were not used in the final release. Ms. Chiger made a surprise appearance when the film was shown to an appreciative audience at the Toronto Film Festival.

The other featurette is "An Evening With Agnieszka Holland," which basically is a 29-minute interview of the director. She repeats many of the comments which she makes in the interview with Krystyna Chiger, so I recommend watching "In Light" first.

Sony also has included the film's theatrical trailer and previews of the following films: Footnote; Damsels in Distress; Darling Companion; A Separation; and Where Do We Go Now?

The Packaging

The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.

The Final Analysis

In Darkness is perhaps the most suitably named film to be released in recent years. It is both disturbing and uplifting, and it certainly is memorable. Some viewers may object to the film's length, but I found it to be engrossing. Be sure to stick around for a very profound written statement which is inserted by the director at the conclusion of the film.

Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable

Release Date: June 12, 2012


Rich Gallagher

#2 of 2 OFFLINE   Ernest


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Posted June 18 2012 - 08:38 AM

Watched the Blu-ray the other night and like Schindler's List a very powerful movie based on true events. These movies, Anne Frank, The Pianist, Counterfeiters, Defiance, etc., are engrossing because you know they are based on true events. They make you aware how deeply involved the local people were in helping the Nazi's. Most important they also show how many people put their lives at risk with the chances they took in helping those the Nazi's wanted to exterminate. WW II unlike any other war resulted in approximately 85% casualties to the civilian population. Because this movie plays of the emotion of the characters it is best watched in it's native language with subtitles. I know many hate subtitles but it would be a tragedy watching Bruno Ganz's performance in Downfall dubbed. In Darkness is highly recommended very entertaining.

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