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In Darkness

The Oscar-nominated Polish film In Darkness truly resides in darkness. There is the dank, flickering dimness of the sewer system where a small group of Polish Jews hides after their ghetto is murderously hollowed out by Nazis; there’s the looming shadow cast by the city worker upon whom this starving, hunted group is forced to place its tenuous trust; and overwhelming everything is the black hole of the Holocaust, extinguishing every glimmer of human hope.

Directed by Agnieszka Holland and based on the actual heroics of Poldek Socha, a Polish sewer worker in the former city of Lwow, In Darkness is a gritty, claustrophobic suspense story that rarely trades complexity and ambiguity for the easy stuff of Spielbergian uplift. The movie is nearly bloodless, but its violence is profound and crushing.

Too often, it is our very sense of drear moral obligation that causes us to shy away from films like this, and yes, In Darkness is a jarring journey into the inconceivable terror of Nazism and all it says about our humanity. So was Casablanca.

The strength of In Darkness is its unflinching eye for detail (a body falling past a window in the distance) and its capacity to engage our senses in the immediacy of the action. For the most part, its characters are fully fleshed, and treachery and weakness — especially of the carnal kind — are not the exclusive domain of evil cardboard Nazis. This is a gripping, soulful film that earns its cathartic moments the hard way, with honesty and guts. —  Rick Levin

In Darkness opens Friday, March 30, at Bijou Cinemas.