Set in Lvov in 1943-44 about a Polish sewer worker, Leopold Sacha ( played by Robert Wieckiewicz), who hides Jewish people in the underground sewers but at first does it for pay. The Ukrainian militia work for the Nazis and are paid to betray Jews to the Nazis and one of them wants Sacha’s help in tracking them down. Sacha is forced to kill a German soldier and we see the grim consequences of German revenge. We catch a glimpse of everyday life in an appalling reality. Do the Jewish People survive the war?
This is all the more commendable for lacking the unctuousness that western films always seem to succumb to. Furthermore, in films about the persecution of the Jews we usually get feisty arguments and shifty self conscious attitudinizings as if the depiction of ordinary humanity will remove any doubts about the advisability of artistic coverage of such horror. There is always the search for the ‘Good German’ (see The Piano Player), it seems the sentimental imperative of commercial cinema cannot bear too much of this reality so the resort to cosy stereotypes can be urgent. In Darkness does resort to the usual dramatic device of accentuating the goodness of the helper-turned-hero by dwelling on his initial reluctance. There is a too much protesting about the earthy cynicism and ordinariness of a man we know will find his heroic self. The other Poles, his wife and friend, are shown as decent folk simply intent on survival. They play a battle of wits with the occupying Germans whose walk-on parts are restricted to the usual pointless act of savagery. These are not the more supposedly humane Germans of ‘Resistance’.
The life in the sewers is of course revoltingly horrifying and the people trapped there are simply trying to stay sane: all simple acts of survival become intensely dramatic. The weather in this film is mostly gloomy, the fetid darkness and squalor makes the whole place look like a run down rat maze as if it could be easily caught in a animated works’ charcoal drawings. The acts of kindness are handled unselfconsciously with very little awkward sentiment. Very gripping.