Scene from "In Darkness" Film 311 .
(photo credit: Jasmin Marla Dichant/Sony Pictures Classics)
WARSAW - Polish
director Agnieszka Holland will take her third shot at an Academy Award
with a dark film that dwells on the ambiguous attitudes of her
countrymen towards the Nazi Holocaust.
Holland's "In Darkness"
recounts the World War Two exploits of Leopold Socha, whose efforts to
help Jews evade capture by the Nazi forces in Poland led Israel's Yad
Vashem institute to place him with the Righteous Among the Nations.
story started to haunt me, I started to dream about it," Holland told
Reuters in an interview. "You shoot a movie because you think a story is
important, that you can artistically transform it to inspire people
today, to tell them that it concerns them too, that they are also
Poland was home to Europe's largest Jewish
community of some 3.3 million people before World War Two. Most of them
perished in the Holocaust. Those who managed to survive were later
oppressed by Poland's post-war communist authorities.
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played by Robert Wieckiewicz in a film which depicts the former sewage
worker and petty criminal's transformation from ruthless profiteer to
Socha helps a group of Jews survive the war
by hiding them in the sewers of Lviv - a city which is now in Ukraine,
but was part of Poland before 1939.
Initially seeking to benefit
from tragedy in the film, he abandons his efforts to bilk "his Jews," as
he calls them, when they run out of money and begins risking his life
to save them from being captured by the Gestapo and almost certain
Sex in the sewers
shot In Darkness in unlit and damp underground conditions and made her
actors speak the languages of pre-war Lviv, believing only a realistic
approach to the theme could engage the viewers emotionally.
film's stark portrayal of life in the filthy conditions of the sewers is
unstinting in its graphic depictions of birth, murder and sex - a theme
rarely explored in Holocaust memoirs.
"I didn't want to show it
in a theatrical, conventional way, which, for example, always shows the
Jewish victims were only noble. Here they are sometimes also weak, or
treacherous. My main hero is also ambiguous, because one can see a
process in such a person, he is closer to the truth," she said.
said her approach was encouraged by the late Marek Edelman, a leader of
the wartime Jewish uprising against Nazi forces in the Warsaw ghetto.
convinced me to be explicit, respecting what these people have really
gone through," Holland said. "I think he would be happy about this
Good or bad
Holocaust theme has already won Holland two Oscar nominations, with
"Europa Europa" for Best Adapted Screenplay and "Angry Harvest" for Best
Foreign Language Film.
"In Darkness" faces an uphill battle with
Iran's "A Separation" directed by Asghar Farhadi, which has already won
a Golden Globe and been nominated for a British Academy of Film and
Television Arts (BAFTA) award.
"My films on this theme find their way to people," Holland said.
Socha's character development speaks volumes about the bipolarity of
Poles, who make up the largest single nationality among the list of
names in the Righteous Among the Nations, but also have a history
littered with anti-Semitism.
Following 1945, the country's communist regime provided an official
Polish history that presented Poles solely as victims of the war and
blocked open discussion of the Nazi occupation.
But a slow change began with the 1989 fall of communism and partly
thanks to controversial books on Polish anti-Semitism by a US-based
Polish author, Jan Tomasz Gross.
His "Neighbours" dealt with a 1941 Jedwabne pogrom in which Poles burned
alive several hundred of their Jewish neighbors locked in a barn, while
the later "Golden Harvest" told how some Poles living near Nazi death
camps enriched themselves by stealing from Jewish corpses.
Defenders of Poland's wartime record invoke the memory of the country's
nearly six million victims and examples such as Socha, of Poles risking
their own lives to save Jews.
"The demons do not go away, they are like a trauma in a family that
spreads on to the next generations, that you can't hide under a sofa,"