David F. Shamoon In Darkness

David F. Shamoon In Darkness

In Darkness

Cast: Robert Wieckiewicz Benno Fürmann, Agnieszka Grochowska Maria Schrader Herbert Knaup
Director: Agnieszka Holland
Genre: Drama, War
Rated: R
Running Time: 145 minutes

Synopsis: Nazi-occupied Lvov, Poland, 1943: the weak prey upon the weaker, the poor steal from the less poor. No one can be trusted.

Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief, struggles to make ends meet for his wife and daughter. His friend, Bortnik, a high-living Ukrainian Officer, dangles the promise of a better life: all Socha has to do is find Jews hiding in the sewers. After all, no one knows the system better than Socha, who uses it as a hiding place for his loot.

Soon enough, Socha comes across a motley group of Jews trying to escape the upcoming liquidation of the Lvov ghetto by hiding in the sewers. They offer Socha money to protect them. Although he is aware that helping a Jew could mean immediate execution for him and his family, Socha sees this as easy cash and they strike a deal.

One of the group, Mundek Margulies, a con man who hides deep reserves of courage under a breezy manner, deeply distrusts Socha. Nevertheless, when the Nazis strike, Socha helps the Jews, including two young children, escape into the sewers.

Socha's challenges are just beginning, as he tries to stay one step ahead of Bortnik's growing suspicions that he is hiding a secret. Before long, his fragile tightrope begins to fray. His charges start to crack under the immense strain of life underground. Socha weighs the money he's receiving against the threat of certain death to himself and his family. Buckling under the pressure, he abandons them.

However, powerful circumstances intervene. Socha saves Mundek's life by helping him kill a German soldier. Then, stumbling upon the two children wandering lost and dazed in the sewers, he realises that he cannot desert these people.

The trials for Socha and the group are relentless. In the sewer, a woman gives birth, with tragic consequences. Mundek falls desperately in love with feisty young Klara, and decides on a foolhardy mission: entering into the very heart of darkness, the Janowska concentration camp, to rescue her sister. He persuades Socha to help him enter, and then escape from the camp, compelling the sewer worker to take ever greater risks.

Release Date: July 26th 2012
Website: www.indarknessfilm.com

Director's Statement

2009 brought a number of new Holocaust stories in books and films. One may ask if everything has now been said on this subject. But in my opinion the main mystery hasn't yet been resolved, or even fully explored. How was this crime (echoes of which continue in different places in the world from Rwanda to Bosnia) possible? Where was Man during this crisis? Where was God? Are these events and actions the exception in human history or do they reveal an inner, dark truth about our nature?

Exploring the many stories from this period uncovers the incredible variety of human destinies and adventures, revealed in the richest texture of plots and dramas, with characters that face difficult moral and human choices, exercising both the best and the worst in human nature. One of those stories is Leopold Socha and the group of Jews from Lvov's Ghetto, whom he hides in the city's sewers. The main character is ambiguous: seemingly a good family man, yet a petty thief and a crook, religious and immoral at the same time, perhaps an ordinary man, living in terrible times. During the story Socha grows in many ways as a human being. There is nothing easy or sentimental in his journey. This is why it's fascinating; it's why we can make this journey with him.

The group of Jews he saves is not made of angels. The fear, the terrible conditions, their own selfishness make them complex and difficult, sometimes unbearable human beings. But they are real and alive, and their imperfections give them a stronger claim to their right to life than any idealized version of victims could.

I immediately liked the story, liked the potential of it, the characters, and the script.

The biggest and the most exciting challenge for me as a filmmaker was the darkness. They live in the dark, stink, wet and isolation for over a year. We knew we had to express it, to explore this underground world in a very special, realistic, human and intimate way. We wanted the audience to have the sensual feeling of being there. And to maintain tension as the viewer slowly becomes attached to the story. The dynamic of the film is built on inter-cutting the worlds of the two leads, Socha and Mundek. These two worlds come together to be one, in which they must work together to survive.
- Agnieszka Holland

Production Background

A Writer's Journey
by Screenwriter David F. Shamoon

It took one sentence in a Toronto newspaper to start an eight-year journey that took me to the sewers of Lviv, Ukraine (Lvov, Poland during World War II), a bitterly cold set at the legendary Babelsberg Studio just outside Berlin and a dark editing room in Toronto. It also took me into the darkest recesses of human history.

The article was about The Righteous, Sir Martin Gilbert's book that cataloged those incredibly courageous individuals who risked not only their own lives, but the lives of their families, by helping Jews escape the clutches of the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The galvanizing sentence went something like this: "A Polish Catholic thief hid a group of Jews in the sewers of Lvov, which he knew well because that was where he hid his loot and actually got a job as a sewer worker." I immediately wanted to know more about this person because the sentence raised so many questions, chiefly: what makes a criminal, or anyone for that matter, risk his life and his family's to help complete strangers? I grasped that there must be a profound emotional, psychological and physical journey that this man undertook.

After I contacted him, Sir Martin very graciously directed me to a whole book about this story, In the Sewers of Lvov by Robert Marshall. Published in 1991 and no longer in print, I managed to purchase the last copy from Amazon. As I read it, the story electrified me because it had every aspect of great drama in it: a flawed hero, nerve-shredding suspense, romance, heartrending tragedy, real characters caught up in a desperate situation. It even had dark comedy: Leopold Socha, the thief and sewer worker, had earlier robbed the jewelry store belonging to the uncle of Paulina Chiger, one of the Jews he was protecting! As a screenwriter, the story was irresistible.

But as the son of parents who had to flee Baghdad to escape Iraq's persecution of Jews, it also spoke to me on a very deep level. So I personally optioned the film rights to the book and spent the next year researching the era and writing the script 'on spec'. Early on, I made two very critical choices: I would not sugar-coat any of the Jewish characters - they were all deeply flawed, some of them former con men or black marketers. There were class divisions among them which collided, especially between the upper-class Ignacy Chiger and the rough-hewn Janek Grossman who abandoned his wife and daughter. The second choice was to limit the depiction of the atrocities. There were two reasons for this: audiences are already aware of the extent of the horror and violence, thanks to films like Schindler's List. The second reason was more mundane: as I did the research, I realised that many of the actual events were too horrifying to even attempt to recreate. In fact, to try would be an act of disrespect.

Actually writing the screenplay presented some other challenges. Not much is known about Leopold Socha the man, so his journey from an opportunist who helped the Jews purely for money to someone who felt compelled to save them at all costs - including the lives of his beloved wife and daughter - had to be dramatised for the audience. Some characters were created while others were eliminated or combined for clarity. Some events were altered or invented. But the main thrust of the story remained intact. As Krystyna Chiger, the only living person who was actually there, said after seeing the film, "You captured it. That's how it was."

After I finished the script, a well-known Hollywood director and producer wanted to make it, but I felt strongly that this story should never be 'Hollywoodized'. A friend in Britain suggested the ideal director: Agnieszka Holland. As a long-term admirer of her work, I knew that he was absolutely right, so I sent her the script through her agent, who never showed it to her (he is no longer her agent!). As it turned out, one of the production companies to which I sent the script was The Film Works, whose principals Eric Jordan and Paul Stephens, had worked with Agnieszka before. I knew that I had found the ideal partners.

But that was just the beginning of what would be another half decade of trying to get the film made. Agnieszka, although very helpful in offering suggestions from the beginning, turned the project down - twice. The key reason was that we - and by now that included the German co-producer Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv and the Polish co-producer Zebra Films - insisted that the film be in English. Agnieszka felt equally strongly that the story, which is so rooted in its place and time, should be told in the original languages: Polish, German, Yiddish, Ukrainian, etc. If we wanted her as the director - and we really, really did - the film had to be in those languages. As it turned out, she was absolutely right. Her commitment to authenticity was unwavering: for example, she made sure that the specific dialect of 'Lvov Polish' was used.

Working with Agnieszka and the producers, the script went through many drafts. The bane of every screenwriter, especially a relatively inexperienced one, is over-writing. Ms. Holland made sure that didn't happen. In addition to being a huge privilege, collaborating with her was like getting a PhD in writing for the movies. The dream of every screenwriter is to see the images that have only resided in his or her imagination appear on the screen. In the case of In Darkness, they actually exploded. Led by Agnieszka, all the other artists, especially the superb cast, poured their hearts and souls into the film, and I think that it shows. Forget about the "glamour of filmmaking", this was incredibly hard, sometimes backbreaking work. My gratitude to every single person involved is immeasurable.

My main hope is that Leopold Socha's example will inspire others as much as it has inspired me. Like many of the other Righteous, he was no saint, which is what makes this a universal story. He was just an ordinary man who made some crucial choices that led to extraordinary deeds.

Inevitably the Jews' money runs out. But now there's no turning back. Socha buys them food with his own money, moving them from one chamber to another, protecting them as the war grinds on and Bortnik gets ever closer to exposing him.

Then catastrophe. A devastating flash flood fills the sewers. Bortnik realises that his friend has indeed betrayed him. And Socha is forced into one final, desperate act of courage.

About the Cinematography
by Director of Photography Jolanta Dylewska

As the director of photography, the "actors" I use to tell a story are light, color, perspective and motion. I knew from the very beginning that in In Darkness, the light had to be the main protagonist. I set my sight on the following three tasks:
To make the 'Darkness' a metaphor of the Jewish lot during the Holocaust.
To create the dramaturgy of lighting by which the spectator will be "touched" by the darkness; he will experience the protagonists' feelings as if he was there with them.
The main hero, Leopold Socha, a Catholic who voluntarily decides to bear responsibility for Jewish lives, had to be lit differently from the rest of characters. As if the light was always with him; even in the 'Darkness'.

About the Production
by Production Designer Erwin Prib

I think the biggest and most spectacular task was to create the underworld of the film, the sewers of Lvov.

The sewer sets for this film are not only a major location with an enormous amount of screen time, but another main character, inheriting all the emotions involved in the story: hope, fear, love. They had to be a shelter and a deadly trap at the same time.

I knew this would be a great challenge not only artistically but also technically. After meeting Agnieszka Holland, I understood even more, that we had to create a really credible world, since Agnieszka wanted the actors to be as close to their characters as possible.

The research process started in real sewers. We got the chance to visit several real sewer systems in Berlin, Leipzig and Lodz. I was fascinated by this underworld. At the same time it seemed rather difficult to shoot the majority of the scenes under such harsh and even dangerous circumstances. I proposed to build the chambers and parts of the sewer tunnels in the studio. The initial design idea of the studio sewers is the möbius strip. I wanted to create a labyrinth system on a very small space, using different tunnel sections, so that you can wander around in this rather small system for quite a long time without crossing the starting point. We created a 3D Model and tested it. My Art Director Niels Müller attached a walking scheme to every scene in the film, and at the end, the floor plan looked like patterns for sewing. To design the chambers in which the refugees hide was another challenge. These had to be spaces realistic enough to represent overflow chambers or another technical space in the sewers, on the other hand these had to be rooms you can work in with a crew and a dozen actors, rooms the refugees survived in for over a year and lived a "normal" social life.

The core requirement for the set construction was the water resistance. We wanted to simulate different levels of water and current in these tunnels, as it is in the reality depending on the precipitation. The main system was built for a water level of 1m (roughly 3.3 ft) max. Segments of the sewers had to be completely under water, since the story climax takes place with the whole sewers fully flooded. They were built separately in containers. A bunch of talented scenic artists turned the plaster casted walls into real brick with a great patina.

Another technical challenge we faced was the low sensitivity of the RED Camera we used, therefore we needed additional sources of light inside the tunnels. I discussed this issue with Director of Photography Jolanta Dylewska and we came up with an idea of smaller pipes leading to the bigger tunnels, which could be used for additional lighting as well.

About the Costumes
by Costume Designer Katarzyna Lewinska

In Darkness was the hardest film I have ever done, but also the most satisfying in my career. Difficulty started with the story/script- the highest level of a challenge for the costume designer. Eleven people spending an entire year underground, in the sewers, constantly wet and dirty, dark; and throughout the year having minimal possibility for changes in the outfits.

I had to think how I would behave in a situation like that and how I would deal with the clothes. We had to create a master plan for all the characters of "clothes distressing phases" based on the time line and separate plans for every character based on individual events in the script. It felt like mathematics. That created a very difficult production task - constructing enough sets of costumes for every character for the most difficult scenes requiring duplicated costumes and for the entire story to show the destruction of their world. So there were duplicates of duplicates of duplicates. And, of course, whatever we planned and tried to foresee before the shooting started did not necessarily prepare us for the reality we faced once we entered the set the first day. The reality of the production was far more difficult than what we had expected. The never-ending water presence was the most annoying thing - everything seemed constantly wet and dirty. There was never enough time to dry clothes, the shoes were constantly wet and falling apart, the distressing kept being washed off, etc. Lack of sleep is what I recall from that time

When we went down into the real sewers in Lodz, things got surreal. The most severe cold wind, humidity and lack of light for 12 hours were something I still remember. Hundreds of tired extras, very difficult days, full of arguments, accidents, and enormous fatigue. I think it was the most difficult three months in my film experience. But now it is all a good story from the past we keep telling each other.

About the Editing
by Editor Michal Czarnecki

I remember Agnieszka saying "this film has to last."

We wanted the audience to feel that they spent time in the sewers. During our first screening I would turn around and look at the audience to see their reactions. When I saw the audience gasping for air I knew that we had succeeded.

Editing on In Darkness began with the start of shooting in February 2010 and lasted until September 2010 when the picture was locked. I edited in Warsaw and then moved to Agnieszka's home in Brittany in the summer of 2010, where the film came to life and was cut into the form we have now.

The length of the film was always an issue. We were challenged by having a first cut that was over four hours long, which is often normal for first rough cuts of films. But with this film we quickly realized that you cannot cut down on scenes to make them quicker and the film shorter. This was when Agnieszka said "this film has to last."

The time spent in the sewers needs to last, we wanted the audience to feel this passage of time. Through purposefully long cuts and takes we wanted to take the audience into the darkness of being in the sewers. My main goal in cutting In Darkness was to make the audience feel like they were the ones hiding in the sewers.

What I realised early on in the edit is that 99.9% of the viewing audience has never been in a sewer and no one really knows what it sounds like underground and they only have a slight idea of what it really looks like. As filmmakers we took the audience to a place that they have never been to before.

I realised that this film, like no other I have worked on, has a physical effect on the audience in the movie theater. Once the film moves underground into the sewers, the film becomes dark. The viewer's pupils dilate and begin to see the different shades of darkness. This was confirmed to me at one of the first group screenings we had. There is a scene where Mundek walks outside, it's snowing and it's bright after being in the sewers for some time. During the screening before this cut I turned around and looked at the audience when the cut occurred - I could hear a gasp, and deep breaths were taken. The audience along with Mundek gasped for fresh air. I knew then that we had succeeded in making the audience feel the darkness and claustrophobia of being underground. It hit me how powerful an edit can be and how important each cut was.

At one point we cut cue cards out for each scene and put them up on a bulletin board in script order. We marked each scene whether it takes place above or below ground. We strategically moved scenes to achieve the best possible effect on the audience.

There are several dolly shots when the camera moves from below ground to above ground in one shot. They heighten the sense of hiding and being underground. We even added to this with sound design.

The sex scene between Janek and Chaja is cut to feel uncomfortable. We are there seeing something we shouldn't, the audience is trapped with our characters in one small space. When the Jews finally are free and crawl out of the sewer the audience is there with them, having at least in a small way felt what it was like to be in the darkness. After screenings I like to look at people's faces, and I could tell that people had been moved emotionally and physically.

Editing six different languages and one dialect - Polish, Yiddish, German, Hebrew, Ukrainian, Russian and Balak (which is a dialect of Polish spoken in Lvov at the time) would have seemed to be a difficult task, but it wasn't. It's all integrated seamlessly into the mosaic of cultures that was Lvov at the time. As an editor you just learn to listen to the feeling of the dialogue and the rest comes easily.

Because of our close working relationship and my intimate knowledge of the film, Agnieszka asked me to spend several weeks on the sound edit working with Daniel Pellerin and his crew before Agnieszka arrived for the final sound mix.

I remember first speaking with Daniel before the film was finished. I was in Warsaw and he was in Toronto. Using internet cameras we went through a rough cut of the film and talked about what Agnieszka and I were thinking. One of the first things I said was that with the sound mix, we wanted to continue what we were aiming for in the picture edit, which was to make the audience feel that they were there; the darkness, the claustrophobia, the fear. It was a tall order for a sound designer and he more than filled it.

For instance, with the dolly shots that move through the ground from below to above, I knew, while editing, that these shots needed to have sound that transports us "through the earth". I remember sitting in the sound studio in Toronto and hearing Daniel mix the surround sound so that it moved through the theater along with the camera dolly.

Watching the finished film, I felt that this is a different "Holocaust" film. It's a very "real" film, which takes the viewers on a physical and emotional journey, to places they have never been before.

Editing In Darkness was, literally and figuratively, a journey into the darkness and sewers of the human condition, into what people are capable of doing to each other and to what lengths the human spirit will go to survive.

About the Music
by Composer Antoni Komasa-Lazarkiewicz

After my first discussions with Agnieszka I realised that In Darkness was going to be the greatest challenge in my career as a composer of music for film. The theme and the approach to it made us all pose fundamental questions about the nature of music itself, the role of musical narrative in such a story, and the way it's supposed to correspond with the reality depicted in the picture. It was clear from the start that we will have to forget about the conventional approach to film scoring, where the music simply supports the emotional narrative, builds tension or suspense and gives a boost to the action.

I remember, that after having seen the first edit of the film, Agnieszka and I were very close to the decision not to use any score at all. We were dealing with a material so delicate and yet so intense, that we had to look for a different, deeper level, on which music could constitute its own narrative. The film has a subtle metaphysical tension. It's metaphysics without the presence of God, hidden from His eyes. The two worlds in which the film is happening, interact with each other, and the role of the music should be to build the bridges between them, transport emotions and impulses between the underworld and the reality above ground.

When we realised this, the rest was surprisingly easy. The music came to me as one impulse, one sound. It would melt into the very intense soundscape of the sewers, build an underlying pulse, sometimes enter the intimacy of the characters, expose their constant fear, as well as the short moments of emotional relief.

I worked with two important musical elements, which constituted a counterpoint to my score. One of them was the world of "realistic" music: the German military marches, the pop-songs of the period, the classical music, which had been abused by the Nazis as an instrument of torturing the prisoners. The other was the aria "When I am laid" from Purcell's Dido and Eneas; a piece of music which I proposed, and for which Agnieszka found a significant place in the film. It's the emotional peak of the story, where the fate of different characters connects. When composing my music, I tried to build up to this scene in the film.

The music for the final credits of the film is the only place, where I actually decided to build a full-scale narrative. The emotional impact of the final scene is very profound and I sincerely hope that at least some of the members of the audience will decide to rest in their places and contemplate the music, and that it will help them find a way back to the ground.