I just watched a most claustrophobic depiction of life escaping a wartime Jewish ghetto, and it brought to mind nothing so much as Andrzej Wajda’s “Kanal”.
Purely coincidentally, as Alexander Putin is having his good fun with Ukraine I watch “In Darkness”, Agnieska Holland’s film from 2011 that takes place in Lvov. During World War II, Lvov is technically Polish and occupied by Germans. The city is now part of Ukraine, and all of this back-and-forth possession gives you a sense of how the ethnic make-up of the city has always been a mix. That mix, and Putin’s provocative actions, are two reminders of how much and how long Ukraine has suffered from being eastern Europe’s breadbasket.
But back to the film – A small group of the city’s Jews evade the Nazis for over a year by hiding in the sewer system, aided by a Polish sewer worker and sometime thief. The place is not just wet and smelly, as one would obviously expect. Somehow the film manages to convey the overwhelming darkness and sense of being not just bricked in, but the weight of those bricks over and around you. The literal and figurative weight of being underground are disturbing sensations, to say the least, and yet the film still manages to be warm with human touch.
I remember a similar sensation from Wajda’s film, which also takes place during World War II, also in Poland, also largely underground. While visually interesting, “Kanal” is more melodramatic if I remember correctly. It’s no small coincidence that the director of “In Darkness” counts Wajda as one of her mentors. Holland has made a fine film here and it’s worth watching.