Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Schindler's List and In Darkness

I have a lot of respect for Roger Ebert and often like his take on films so I was disappointed by his bad review of "In Darkness". He used "Schindler's List" as a club to beat "In Darkness", arguing that the greatness of Spielberg's film made it unnecessary to make any more films about gentiles saving Jews from the Nazis. I realized that as bureau chief I had to again overcome my reluctance to watch a film on the Holocaust and finally take a look at "Schindler's List".  I'm very happy that I did. It is an great film and undoubtedly Spielberg's masterpiece.

He used his superb skills to direct a huge cast in a true story graced with wonderful performances by Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler and Ralph Fiennes as SS officer Amon Goeth. However being Spielberg he also followed his tendency towards over-the -top sentimentality and almost destroyed his master work in a scene near the end where Schindler breaks down and berates himself for not saving more Jews. We've been watching Oskar Schindler for three hours and regardless of whether this scene is based on a real incident, it seems invented and tacked on. Yes Schindler has changed but this is just out of character. Luckily, the film survives that.

Ebert seems to be saying in his review that since Spielberg has made a great symphony, Agnieszka Holland isn't allowed to make a chamber piece on the same subject. This is amazingly wrong. Schindler is a businessman with a factory. He uses the tools available to a businessman to save over a thousand Jews, Leopold Socha, the lead character of "In Darkness", is a sewer worker and a thief and he uses the tools available to a working class person to save a handful of Jews. When the war is finally over, the group of 1100 Jews gathers in the the dining hall of the factory to thank Schindler and his wife who have to flee the victorious Russians. The people shower Schindler with their gratitude.

When Leopold Socha leads the small group of Jews out of the sewer through a manhole, they stand blinking in the May sunlight while passersby gawk at this strange apparition. Socha's wife hurries up with a cake she has baked and distributes it to the survivors and Socha says to the onlookers, "These are my Jews, this is my work", not meaning to be patronizing but because finally he really has done something very good.

Ebert ends his review with this:

"The movie (In Darkness) has been no­minated for an Oscar in the foreign film category. It's a completely safe nomination for a film that's very long, very dark, against Nazis, and of course "based on a true story." Why anyone would feel the need to make it after seeing "Schindler's List," I cannot say."

Agnieszka Holland's father is a  Polish Jew whose own parents died in the Holocaust and her mother is a Polish Catholic who fought in the Resistance. Maybe she has as much right as an American guy from Arizona to make a film about the Holocaust.

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