“In darkness” nominated for Oscar

“In darkness”, a Polish-German-Canadian movie is nominated for Oscar for the best foreign movie. The movie is based on a true story described in a book “A girl in the green sweater” by Krystyna Chiger. I’m writing about it because it’s a story from WWII, of course.

Lvov, 1943. In the former Polish city, now under Nazi occupation, Germans start the liquidation of getto. A group of Jews descend inside  the city sewers, filthy, smelly, full of rats, bugs and excrements. They’re planning to hide there, hopelessly wandering around in darkness. This is how Leopold Socha, a small-time crook and sewer inspector bumps into them. He is a typical Polish slyboots who knows how to wheel and deal. He offers his help but not for free – he demands 500 zł per day. Jews know they have no other choice, without a help of someone that experienced they would die very quickly. Socha promises to equip them with food every day. And he keeps his word. When he cannot get anymore money he continues to help them anyway as he got used to them and made friends. The Jews spends 14 months underneath and survived – thanks to Socha.

I will not focus on the plot that much as everyone can look it up by themselves. What strikes me the most are the reactions on this movie, both in Poland and overseas. In Poland, those who claim themselves as “patriots” (right-wing xenophobes, to be exact) are completely against the movie, saying that this was an anti-Polish plot. I couldn’t disagree more. Let’s face it – not all Poles were pure during the war, quite the contrary, but this is not a question of nationality, rather of moral standards, and it was like this everywhere. But the movie shows a Pole who experienced a total transformation from a selfish thief to a sensitive human being who risks his life and his family’s to save  Jews. I know that for the rest of the world we are the nation of antisemits, and this is so unfair. First of all – antisemitism is everywhere. Second of all – during WWII Poles used to be hung for helping the Jews, yet the majority of the “Rigtheous among the Nations” (an honorific used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Germans.) are Poles. Even though there were places in German-occupied Europe where people weren’t comdamned to death for hiding Jews. (even wikipedia admits that: In German-occupied Poland, all household members were punished by death if a Jew was found concealed in their home or property. Death was a punishment for providing any aid to a Jew, including giving bread or water to passing Jews. This was the most severe law enforced by the German Nazis in occupied Europe.). So yes, nowadays among our “patriots” (right-wingers) every second one is an antisemit, but there’s also the other half of the nation that is not. I would really like people to take that into consideration. It is easy to be on the other side of the globe and criticize, having no idea what WWII really was. We lost 3 millions of our Polish Jews during the war, most of them were assimilated and considered themselves Polish (see: Wladyslaw Szpilman in “The Pianist”) and it is wrong to put a borderline between Poles, Dutchmen, Frenchmen, Russians etc. and Jews. “In darkness” shows that very well.

“In darkness” spoils also another myth – that the victims were always saint. In the movie we have a man who leaves his wife and a daughter in the getto and takes to the sewers only his lover. We see people arguing, thinking only about themselves, having dirty sex, losing their mind. The image is so real that it leaves you in a deep shock. But this is how it should be, this is how it was. That’s why we need such movies, we need the truth instead of touching bullshit such as “A boy in  striped pyjamas” that has nothing to do with reality, because it was impossible for anyone from outside the concentration camp to spend hours on conversations with a prisoner by the barbed-wire. What is even worse, I met many people who claimed that this movie shows the 100% truth. I’m totally against movies which deform the reality of WWII because soon when all the witnesses are gone people will not know anymore who was a victim and who was a tormenter, they will forget the lesson learnt on this terrible war, they will make something like that happen again. That’s why “In darkness” is a must-see.

As a linguist I must say that the movie is unbelievably interesting also when it comes to the language. Thank God Agnieszka Holland didn’t agree on making it in English, the language that spoiled already many movies (like one of my favourites, “Hitler: The rise of evil” which is an excellent movie, but Hitler speaking English looks so unreal). Instead we have a mix of languages that already disappeared due to historical reasons. So Jews in Lvov speak Yiddish, the language of East European Jews, and Poles speak the dialect of Lvov – something which sounds very exotic for us now. Lvov used to be a Polish city, now it’s Ukraine, and people there had a different accent and they used many local words. The dialect is so difficult to understand that when you go to a cinema in Poland to watch “In darkness” you actually watch it with Polish subtitles! Otherwise you cannot understand almost anything. What a pity that WWII destroyed so many local dialects. I had a chance to listen to Poles living in Gdańsk before the war and I loved their hard, steel German accent while speaking Polish. The same with the dialect from Lvov – now no one speaks this way anymore. I’m glad that Agnieszka Holland gave us an opportunity to listen to it.

Also acting merites celebration, especially Robert Wieckiewicz’s – I must admit I didn’t like him before, I couldn’t imagine him in an ambitious production, but I completely changed my mind.