|Leopold (Robert Wieckiewicz) holds up a little girl out of a man |
hole to breath fresh air for the first time in many months.
Sony Pictures Classics
In 1943, Lvov, Poland was overtaken by Nazi soldiers. Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz) is a sewer worker who knows every tunnel like the back of his hand. As he struggles to make enough money to live on for his family, a Ukrainian officer offers Leo a way to make more money – finding Jews. In no time at all, he finds a group of Jews, but they offer him money if he will protect them. He agrees and places them deep within the sewer system. Each week the group pays Leo a sum to buy food and other necessities for the hidden people. This goes on for a total of 14 months and this small group must learn how to cope living in such horrendous circumstances. For Leo, it is a long journey as well. He struggles with this group’s “demands” and is tempted to just leave them behind. However, what begins as just a way to make some money turns into a deep friendship with “his Jews.” He eventually tells his wife of this new venture and she thinks he is a fool for putting her and their daughter in danger. Soon though, she too develops a love for this group of people that she has never met. Leo is sort of a reluctant good Samaritan.
In addition to Leo’s story, we get a glimpse into the lives of the people in hiding. The small group includes a loving and strong couple with a sister who panics underground, two small children, and a man who openly cheats on his wife with another woman. This group has new rules on how the operate and communicate with each other. They have to function as a team, ration food as needed, and help to keep each other warm. We see their initial utter disgust and fear of the vermin living in the sewer and how it winds down into a minor irritation. We see how the older generation tries to encourage the younger with crayons and storytelling.
The film is full of difficult imagery and heart-warming scenes including one when Leo is able to find a menorah and matzo bread so that “his Jews” can celebrate the Passover. This celebration takes place at the same time that Leo’s daughter is baptized at his own church. The climax of the film involves Leo risking his own life to save the others’ lives with just enough excitement to keep you on the edge of your seat. If you can sit through this picture, there is big redemptive payoff at the end.