Celluloid depictions of the Holocaust have thus far tended to deal in moral absolutes, admittedly for understandable reasons. What’s refreshing, perhaps even provocative about Agnieszka Holland’s Oscar-nominated new film is that its chronicle of events in the Polish city of Lvov is peopled on all sides by flawed and thus very human individuals. When the Nazis send in Ukrainian special agents to exterminate the Jewish populace, sewer inspector and part-time thief Socha (brilliant Polish actor Robert Więckiewicz) initially stands by and watches. It’s only when desperate Jews seek refuge in the sewers that he moves in to extort a weekly fee for keeping them safe! Moreover, his charges are a fractious lot whose social divisions are not immediately healed by their horrendous living conditions.
Tensions escalate with every day the secret remains undiscovered, and although the film’s uncommonly gripping, its portrait of human goodness emerging in the most dire of circumstances proves all the more potent for its utter lack of sentimentality.
David Shamoon had written his script based on the book In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall. (Notes by Trevor Johnston.)