Going underground

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

• There have been many movies about the Holocaust. So much so there is a fear that filmmakers’ constant re-framing and re-imagining of it undermines and clouds the awful history they seek to convey. However, for Polish director Agnieszka Holland, there is still a sense the “main mystery” surrounding why humans behaved as they did has still not been fully explored.

Holland is perhaps best known for Europa Europa, her film about a boy who conceals he is Jewish by joining the Hitler Youth. Her latest film, In Darkness, focuses on a group of Jews from many backgrounds who hid out for 14 months in the sewers to escape the liquidation of the ghetto in Lvov in Poland.

The script, written by David F. Shamoon, derives from a true story taken from Robert Marshall’s book In the Sewers of Lvov. It follows Leopold Socha – popular Polish actor Robert Wieckiewicz – a sewer worker and thief who agrees to hide the group after they offer him significantly more money than the Nazis’ bounty on Jews. What starts off as an opportunist business arrangement becomes something deeper and more dangerous for Socha and his family as he discovers his humanitarian side.

Critics have praised the film for its vivid recreation of the squalid conditions in the sewer, compared to life above ground, leaving the audience wanting to come up for air by the end. The ordeal in the dark, dank conditions also reveals the strains and clashes of the clearly flawed individuals within the group as they struggle to survive. It also aptly shows the social diversity of the time, with people speaking Polish, German, Yiddish and Ukrainian.

How much Holland’s film – Poland’s foreign language entry for the 2012 Oscars – sheds light on the dark “mystery” that caused humans to behave so hideously towards one another is sure to be a talking point, while offering a dramatic and ultimately heart-warming take on the Second World War experience.

Steven Soderbergh’s latest, Haywire (out now), has no pretensions to great art although the two-dimensional thriller with a kick-ass female might lend it a feminist spin. Soderbergh is clearly having fun with the action genre, with trademark long shots and limited use of music. The film is short on emotional backstory: an ex-marine working for a private company in special ops finds herself the target of an elaborate and deadly plot. Gina Carano, playing the curvaceous heroine, gives a frustratingly inscrutable performance, but her experience as a mixed martial arts champ makes her a thoroughly credible action figure as she dispatches the bad guys.

Angelina Jolie, action woman on-screen and off (in her role as UN Goodwill Ambassador), makes her directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey, set in war-torn 1980s Bosnia. Graphic in its depiction of the horrors of war and ethnic cleansing, the ambitious debut has had a mixed critical reception.

Having hung up his wand, Harry Potter star Daniel Ratcliffe graduates to gothic horror in The Woman in Black (out February 3). Set in the early 1900s, Ratcliffe plays a lawyer who, while working on a deceased client’s papers in a remote mansion, begins to see a mysterious woman dressed only in black and uncovers tragic secrets about the local village.

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