Nazi-occupied Lvov, Poland, 1943: the weak prey upon the weaker, the poor steal from the less poor. No one can be trusted
Leopold Socha, a sewer worker and petty thief, struggles to make ends meet for his wife and daughter. His friend, Bortnik, a high-living Ukrainian Officer, dangles the promise of a better life: all Socha has to do is find Jews hiding in the sewers. After all, no one knows the system better than Socha, who uses it as a hiding place for his loot.
Soon enough, Socha comes across a motley group of Jews trying to escape the upcoming liquidation of the Lvov ghetto by hiding in the sewers. They offer Socha money to protect them. Although he is aware that helping a Jew could mean immediate execution for him and his family, Socha sees this as easy cash and they strike a deal.
One of the group, Mundek Margulies, a con man who hides deep reserves of courage under a breezy manner, deeply distrusts Socha. Nevertheless, when the Nazis strike, Socha helps the Jews, including two young children, escape into the sewers.
Socha’s challenges are just beginning, as he tries to stay one step ahead of Bortnik’s growing suspicions that he is hiding a secret. Before long, his fragile tightrope begins to fray. His charges start to crack under the immense strain of life underground. Socha weighs the money he’s receiving against the threat of certain death to himself and his family. Buckling under the pressure, he abandons them.
However, powerful circumstances intervene. Socha saves Mundek’s life by helping him kill a German soldier. Then, stumbling upon the two children wandering lost and dazed in the sewers, he realizes that he cannot desert these people.
The trials for Socha and the group are relentless. In the sewer, a woman gives birth, with tragic consequences. Mundek falls desperately in love with feisty young Klara, and decides on a foolhardy mission: entering into the very heart of darkness, the Janowska concentration camp, to rescue her sister. He persuades Socha to help him enter, and then escape from the camp, compelling the sewer worker to take ever greater risks.
Inevitably the Jews’ money runs out. But now there’s no turning back. Socha buys them food with his own money, moving them from one chamber to another, protecting them as the war grinds on and Bortnik gets ever closer to exposing him.
Then catastrophe. A devastating flash flood fills the sewers. Bortnik realizes that his friend has indeed betrayed him. And Socha is forced into one final, desperate act of courage.
© Sony Pictures Classics . All rights reserved
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