"In Darkness"

Jasmin Marla Dichant, Sony Pictures Classics

Movie spotlights: 'In Darkness' and 'Silent House'

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT
  • Star Tribune
  • March 9, 2012 - 9:57 AM


Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland's "In Darkness" is a fact-based WWII survival story set in the cavernous wastewater pipes beneath the city of Lvov. It was there, amid rats and human waste, that sewer worker Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) began hiding a small group of Jews from the Nazi occupation.

There was a reward of badly needed food for Poles who turned over Jews, and a death sentence for those found hiding them. Socha didn't take on that risky task for honorable reasons. He extracted compensation for every loaf of bread he smuggled down to them.

Over the course of months, however, he began to recognize his client's humanity. Once transformed, he began to protect them as courageously as if they were his own family. The film is a morally challenging examination of the vexed Polish Catholic-Jewish relations of the era and a rich portrait of a man moving almost reluctantly toward righteousness.

While most of the below-ground characters remain as murky as the unlighted passageways, and the production design is aptly depressing, this story of a working-class Oskar Schindler ends on a note of heart-swelling uplift.

  • ★★★ out of four stars
  • Rated R for violence, disturbing images, sexuality, nudity and language. In subtitled Polish, German and Yiddish.
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"Silent House" follows the form of a Gothic novel: A nameless horror engulfs a seemingly blameless family. But who among us is blameless?

The film chillingly shows evil is latent in us all. Or not so latent. As the eloquently expressive Elizabeth Olsen putters around the lakeside haunt that her father and uncle are boarding up for the winter, the usual old house creaks begin to take on a sinister tone. Mold festers symbolically under the attractive wallpaper. Even before events take (surprise!) a perverse and bloody turn, we sense there's something wrong here.

As the story congeals into a seething mass of shame and degradation, it becomes increasingly unclear whether there are actual squatters present or if our heroine is gradually going insane.

The film maintains its air of mystery without descending into boggy incoherence. The sly script doesn't seem to be parceling out plot information, but it is, as you will eventually come to see. There's a lot of clever obfuscation going on here. It's often impossible to tell if something is happening now, in decades past, or in the land of make-believe.

The film is presented as a single, continuous take, which provides a strong sense of unity. Remaking a 2010 Uruguayan thriller, directors Chris Kentis and Laura Lau suffocate us with dark, claustrophobic framing and jolt us with "boo" scares that are logically justified. As the crisis comes to a boil, "Silent House" feels like a psychotic episode come to life. It's impressive and oppressive, and it very effectively gets on your nerves.

  • ★★★ out of four stars
  • Rated R for disturbing violent content and terror.
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As a senior researcher at Philip Morris, America's largest tobacco company, Victor J. DeNoble ran in-house rat studies on nicotine and addiction. His employers' goal was to create cigarettes with the addictive qualities of nicotine but without its adverse health effects. He was later fired by the company, his research quashed and his lab animals killed because of the sensitive nature of his findings. They proved that despite decades of denial, tobacco firms were researching how to make their products more addictive.

DeNoble, a University of Minnesota postdoctoral fellow, testified before Congress in one of the most important whistleblower cases since the Pentagon papers. He revealed the inner workings of a notoriously secretive industry. His testimony changed the debate on tobacco. No longer could executives claim cigarette addiction was caused by social pressure, weakness of will or poor self-control. They were designing products deliberately engineered to hijack the pleasure centers of the brain. This straightforward documentary by Charles Evans Jr. (producer of Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator") is must viewing for anyone interested in public health and corporate ethics.

  • ★★★ out of four stars
  • Rated PG for thematic material involving smoking and addiction, and for some language.
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