Friday, February 10, 2012

Movies in Brief: In Darkness, Perfect Sense, Windfall

In Darkness
Directed by Agnieszka Holland
Opens February 10, 2012; Sony Pictures Classics

Perfect Sense
Directed by David Mackenzie
Opens February 3, 2012; IFC Films

Directed by Laura Israel
Opens February 3, 2012; First Run features

In her intensely focused new drama, In Darkness, director Agnieszka Holland pulls few punches in her account--based on real events--of a group of Jewish refugees hiding in the sewers beneath the Polish town of Lvov for 14 months during World War II, and the efforts of a local sewer worker, Leopold Socha, to keep them away from Germans and others who would be only too happy to turn them in.

Holland’s film, which owes an enormous debt to Andrzej Wajda’s classic Kanal, unflinchingly shows the horrible conditions these desperate people are forced to survive under, with literally no light until the war ends and they are brought up to face a world they have not laid eyes on for more than a year. Laced with a bitterly ironic sense of humor--especially in its depiction of the far from saintly Socha (a marvelously multi-shaded Robert Wińôckiewicz), who despite his heroics is making out financially from his assistance--the film also allows its characters their humanity: what at the beginning seems a group of interchangeable victims gradually becomes clearly delineated individuals, to be the audience and Socha.

That said, the movie is overlong: too many subplots include one about the search for a young woman who ran away from the sewer only to appear in a labor camp, which she refuses to leave. There’s also a climactic rainstorm that turns into a flood, threatening to drown those underground: the fake suspense at their expense reminded me of the shower scene in Schindler’s List.

But Holland has made a taut, piercing film of how people--good, bad or (like most) somewhere in between--deal with extreme situations. Visually, In Darkness is splendidly and believably monochromatic (thanks to Joanta Dylewska’s photography, Michael Czarcecki’s editing and Erwin Prib’s production design), with enough figurative and literal illumination to show that, for some, there was light at the end of a long tunnel.

Perfect Sense, a portentous romantic allegory by David Mackenzie, is uncomfortably reminiscent of other--and mostly better--films like Bertrand Tavernier’s Death Watch, Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness and Steven Soderbergh’s recent Contagion. As a catastrophic disease robs millions of people of their senses, a dedicated scientist (Eva Green) who’s nursing a broken heart meets a charming restaurant chef (Ewan MacGregor), and the two have a brief but intense affair that leaves its mark on them and, possibly, the human race.

Director Mackenzie wallows in visualizing (and literalizing) what the couple’s rocky relationship augurs for a world crumbling around them. Too bad that Green and MacGregor, performers who can be charismatic when called upon, are unable to do more except inject nakedness--emotional and physical--into a movie starving for it.

Wind is the sexy new green energy. The complaint most often heard--“I don’t want those ugly windmills near where I live/vacation/work”--has always sounded simply selfish. So when a movie like the wittily-titled Windfall arrives to methodically destroy nearly every pro-wind argument in a mere 83 minutes, attention must be paid.

Director Laura Israel tells the story of how wind power overtakes the upstate New York hamlet of Meredith, some three hours north of Manhattan. When a resident builds a wind farm on his property, the reality hits everyone, pro and con, square on the head: the mills are monstrosities, are loud, blot out the sun, are expensive, and are backed by a conglomerate that makes massive profits--whether they work or not.

Windfall works remarkably well as a needed educational primer: for Meredith residents, for residents of Tug Hill, a town farther north and farther along in wind farm building, and for viewers, most of whom are assumed to be sympathetic to wind energy--at least in theory. Windfall urgently huffs and puffs…and blows down the whole shebang.

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