Poldek (Wirckiewicz) works in the Lvov sewers with his young sidekick Szczepek (Skonieczny). When the Nazis begin to systematically clear out the Jewish ghetto, either murdering them or shipping them off to the camps, a handful of Jews escape into the sewers, where Poldek and Szczepek agree to help them for a price. But as the months go on, Poldek becomes increasingly involved in their lives, causing stress with his wife (Preis) back home and making him very nervous around his soldier pal Bortnik (Zurawski).
Poldek is a terrific character: a true hero who doesn't believe he's anything of the sort. He may always demand cash from "his Jews", but he's also willing to risk his life to make sure they're safe. And key events include killing a Nazi to protect the group leader (Furmann), whom Poldek also helps to break into the concentration camp. The lengths he goes to to ensure their survival surprise even him.
Director Holland vividly captures the squalid conditions underground, while unflinchingly portraying the street-level horrors inflicted by the invading Germans. Amid all of this nastiness there are moments of real tenderness and compassion, even as the situation seems increasingly hopeless. Sometimes the scenes begin to feel repetitive, with the constant panicking in the face of imminent danger and claustrophobia. But the cast and the script ground each scene in raw humanity.
What makes the film so powerful is the way every character is fully rounded.
The Nazis are portrayed as cruelly obedient rather than pure evil, while the story's protagonists are feisty, stubborn and selfish. And the interaction between characters feels truthful and urgent. This is a beautifully written and directed film that takes us into a situation we couldn't imagine. And it leaves us wondering what we might have done whichever side of the situation we may have found ourselves.
Run time: 145 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 5th January 2012
Box Office USA: $1.0M
Box Office Worldwide: $1M
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Production compaines: Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv, The Film Works
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%
Fresh: 91 Rotten: 13
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Producer: Leander Carell, Wojciech Danowski, Marc-Daniel Dichant, Eric Jordan, Patrick Knippel, Juliusz Machulski, Steffen Reuter, Paul Stephens
Screenwriter: David F. Shamoon
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