In Darkness,
directed by Agnieszka Holland,
cinematography by Jolanta Dylewska

An important Jewish history professional says (perhaps as a provocation) that he won’t see “In Darkness” because the Holocaust and entertainment should not mix. I disagree (although the dilemma how to present the horror of the past needs to be discussed).

I watched “In Darkness” in a Warsaw crowded theater. The last scene of the film triggered there a wave of nervous, sprinkled with relief, laughter.

In good films often the camera assumes the dominating emotion in a scene. “In Darkness” takes it further and has the light telling the main emotion in a scene. This notion is masterfully carried through the entire narrative and explodes in the final, breathtaking scene, leaving the audience spellbound.

The reaction of the audience proves how needed are the attempts to understand the horrors of the past. Even when enveloped in a classical formula and therefore clearly belonging to the entertainment, such attempts work as catharsis, mirrors and powerful transformative tools.

Was the relieved and nervous laughter at the end of “In Darkness” caused by processing of (the collective) guilt? Clearly, the filmmakers took the audience by hands and made it follow the hero who, undergoing a transformation from racist to mentch, quite possibly validated in the viewers plenty of their own instincts - both good and bad. The bad most likely were often denied, the good were unattainable and outside of an individual contemporary experience. Yet both brewed and brew in the psyche of those even remotely touched by the Shoah.

Is the Hollywood formula a risky vehicle to talk about the Holocaust? Sure. We need to explore and seek additional ways to talk about it. Yet the value of the classical “entertainment” formula illuminating the most troubling aspects of our human experience is indisputable, particularly when the storytelling is so powerful.

My only beef with the film is the last line of the closing titles. It comes after the obligatory info about the subsequent events in the hero’s life. The last title jumps to a slightly sneering and moralistic comment which can devalue the just experienced intimacy of an individual human journey. In short, perhaps after a powerful story it’s better to restrain from philosophizing.

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