In 1943 during W.W.II, the Jews of Lvov (now Lviv in Ukraine but then part of Poland), were under siege. Crammed into a ghetto, they’re relentlessly hunted and brutally killed. A desperate group led by wealthy Ignacy and Pauline Chiger (Herbert Knaup, Maria Schrader) and their two young children and friends escape underground, where they’re discovered by a contemptuous sewer inspector/petty thief, Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz). Impulsively, Socha decides to accept money to keep them hidden, cramped into the dark recesses of the dank, rat-infested subterranean tunnels.
Along with the Chiger family, there’s con man Mundek (Benno Furmann), who loves Klara (Agnieszka Grochowska), and Yanek (Marcin Bosak) who chooses his girlfriend Chaja (Julia Kijowska) over his wife and child.
Initially anti-Semitic, Socha’s attitude changes, particularly when his Roman Catholic wife Wanda (Kinga Preis) points out that the Holy Mother and Jesus were Jewish. Risking not only his life but his family’s, courageous, yet ambivalent Socha continues to deliver food and supplies, despite menacing threats from his friend Bortnik (Michael Zurawski), a Ukrainian Nazi officer, urging him to turn in Jews for monetary reward.
Inspired by Krystyna Chiger’s memoir “The Girl in the Green Sweater” with references to Martin Gilbert’s “The Righteous” and Robert Marshall’s “In the Sewers of Lvov,” Canadian screenwriter David F. Shamoon takes dramatic license to fictionalize Socha’s inner turmoil. (Historically, the real Socha’s instinctive devotion to “my Jews” never wavered.) As a result, Shamoon’s characters aren’t prototypically virtuous heroes or simplistic villains. Dimly photographed by Jolanta Dylewska, there’s dispassionate, documentary-like realism.
Half-Jewish director Agnieszka Holland (“Europa, Europa”), whose mother was active in the Polish Resistance, explains, “My goal was not to accuse or show as innocent any nation. I wanted to show how thin is the line between good and evil in the human soul.”
In Polish, German, Yiddish and Ukrainian with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “In Darkness” is a harrowing, intense 9. Dedicated to the more than 6,000 Poles recognized by Israel was Righteous Gentiles, it’s Schindler in the sewers.