Selected release (144 minutes)
A KIND of proletarian answer to Schindler's List, this admirable German-Polish-Canadian co-production tells the true story of Leopold Socha (Robert Wieckiewicz), a Polish sewer worker who helped a group of Jews survive underground during World War II.
It sounds like an uplifting subject but veteran Polish director Agnieszka Holland makes the most of an extended running time to ensure we get a full dose of pain and horror.
Like Roman Polanski, Holland belongs to a tradition of film realism that is less concerned with documentary truth than with leaving the strongest possible impression on the senses.
The scene of flight into the sewers effectively uses hand-held camerawork to plunge us into the midst of a chaotic nightmare.
There's a macabre beauty to many of the later images of scared faces staring out of the dark, accompanied by gurgling water and the scratching of rats.
The film does not entirely transcend dramatic formula: David F. Shamoon's script has its share of contrivances, and Michal Zurawski as a Ukrainian official is essentially a cartoon villain.
Still, Holland strives to avoid sentimentality.
Like Polanski in The Pianist (2002), she focuses firstly on the practical challenges of survival under extreme circumstances, secondly on the moral ironies that result.
The Socha of the film is a reluctant hero, initially motivated by cash rather than fellow feeling; when he does have a change of heart, it comes at a terrible price.