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Modern Languages - Shed light on In Darkness

What the lesson is about

It was a wise choice by director Agnieszka Holland to make language a key factor in the Oscar-nominated film In Darkness, about a small group of Polish Jews who took refuge in the sewers beneath the ghetto in Lvov, writes Jerome Monahan.

Despite pressure to script it in English, Holland recognised that the patchwork of Polish and its local dialect, together with German, Yiddish, and Ukrainian, was the perfect metaphor for the cultural mix that the Final Solution sought to eradicate.

To have the cast speak English would have removed one of the film's most subtle moments, when one of the group emerges after months and is incensed to hear a member of a wealthy family speaking German. The man defends himself by pointing out that German is also the language of Romantic poet and radical Heinrich Heine, a Jew who had converted to Christianity in the 1820s.

Taking it further

In contrast to many Hollywood movies, the Jews depicted are not one- dimensional, but shown in the full range of their humanity. We see their selfishness, cruelty, and snobbery when it is suggested they flee to the safety of the sewers. And nothing is more revealing of the breakdown of moral values than the scene of a man copulating with his girlfriend in a bed adjacent to his wide-awake wife and young daughter.

In Darkness provides a masterclass in film-making and the power of foreign languages. It could also find a place in history, English and RE.

What else?

Film Education has a short legacy resource designed to support the use of the film in the classroom. Get pupils to review their favourite film in German with lighthouse_keeper's lesson.

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