My movie antennae has been up and twitching ever since I heard about this movie. It caused quite a stir when it first released, and ultimately was nominated for an Oscar in the Foreign Language category. I think the biggest attraction for me was that it was directed by the acclaimed Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden, Blue). We are big fans in the Nawrot household. We must have solidarity with the Polish folks.
The movie is based on a true story, and has a similar feel to "Schindler's List". Leopold Soha lives in Nazi-occupied Lvov, a Polish town that today is located in Ukraine. He is a sewer worker, and since the invasion of Poland, has become an opportunist who creeps through the bowels of the city, sneaking into evacuated Jewish homes and looting them for profit.
When the Lvov Ghetto is liquidated of all Jews, who are deported to the extermination camps, Soha is offered a large sum of money to sneak a group of Jews into the sewers to hide. Sure, why not? His family has to eat, after all.
What he did not count on was becoming attached to this ragtag group of men, women and children. They cease to be an income stream and become human beings He begins to take chances when there is threat of discovery, spiriting them off to the next hiding place below the streets. He smuggles them food and clothing, and worries for their well-being.
We are also offered a peek into the conditions in which these Jews lived. The sewers are cold and damp and rat-infested. The quarters were claustrophobic and they had to invent ways to entertain themselves. One woman even had a baby while they were hiding, but the baby died.
The story is compelling. You all know I love stories of survival during WWII, especially true stories. The acting is good, especially Robert Wieckiewicz, who plays Soha. However, I did take issue with the gratuitous sex scenes that were shoehorned in there. I mean, I know people had their NEEDS while trapped in the sewers, but did we really need so many examples? Especially the one where one woman had a Flashdance moment in her negligee? It was overkill and a Hollywood sellout.
The movie was based on a book entitled "In the Sewers of Lvov" by Robert Marshall, written in 1990. The only living survivor of Soha's Jews also wrote a memoir called "The Girl in the Green Sweater: A Life in Holocaust's Shadow", but was published in 2008 and was too late to use as a source for this film.
Unfortunately, while this was a decent movie, you can't help but compare it to "Schindler's List" and in that way it pales significantly. I imagine it was added to the ballot because of Holland's influence (pictured above). It did not win the Oscar and rightly so.
3.5 out of 5 stars