It may seem uncharitable to label a Holocaust film as overly melodramatic, since the catalog of that era's real horrors seems endless, but the Oscar-nominated In Darkness (it lost to A Separation from Iran for Best Foreign Film) hurls all manner of depravity, degradation and sorrows at the screen, until things start sliding off.
Here we have: murder, thievery, adultery, child endangerment, rats, starvation and, quite literally, filthy, filthy sex. This tale of fugitive Polish Jews hiding under the streets of Lvov, aided by a reluctant Catholic sewerage inspector, may be based on true events, but it sometimes feels like an entire season of soap opera scripts crammed into feature length.
Robert Wieckiewicz is compelling as Leopold Socha, a working stiff just struggling to get by, and forced by the brutality of war to gain a conscience. Though the Nazis and their collaborators are on constant watch, petty thief Socha agrees to help hide away and support a group of roughly a dozen Jews, mostly because there is a tidy profit to be made. "Socha's Jews" themselves are a mix of saintly and sinning, a complicated group of people put into appalling circumstances, but determined to remain resolutely human. The highly skilled director Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) tries her best to keep a humane perspective, but by the time we see a very graphic birthing scene, with muck splashing all around, it becomes almost too much to endure, as is the 145-minute run time.
I might have my film buff license revoked if I don't point out the passing resemblance to Andrezj Wajda's 1957 masterpiece Kanal, about a doomed band of partisan fighters trying to escape the Germans by fleeing through Warsaw's sewers. That film remains a classic, for it's brilliant sense of ever-mounting tension. This very well-intentioned, well-acted but ultimately unfulfilling drama, literally drops its characters in shit, and then splashes around desperately for a way out.
Opening Friday at the Maple Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111