Based on real life events this film chronicles a unit of auschwitzs sonderkommando a special squad of jewish prisoners who staged the only armed revolt that would ever take place at auschwitz. Studio: Lions Gate Home Ent.... more » Release Date: 02/01/2005 Starring: Steve Buscemi Mira Sorvino Run time: 108 minutes Rating: R Director: Tim Blake Nelson« less
Florence M. from LILLINGTON, NC Reviewed on 8/21/2009...
We've all heard 'The Book is Better than the Movie'. And for the most part this is true even with regard to "The Grey Zone'; but visual media does lend itself in a very powerful way to this story. It is about the group of mostly Hungarian Sondercomando who successfully blow up part of the crematorium at Auschwitz. You will see a lot of gray in this movie. Is it justified to take a life if you believe you will save many lives? I have watched almost every WWII movie about treatment of the Jews...this one will really give you a feeling of beginning to understand the complex plight in which they found themselves fighting for their very existence. Excellent movie!
Terrifying Tale of Unspeakable Horror
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 04/12/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THE GREY ZONE is the finest film yet made about the horrors of the Nazi Final Solution for the extermination of the Jews and other undesirables in the concentration/death camps such as Auschwitz and Birkenau. While other movies about the Holocaust may be more accessible to the public at large and thus more apt to win Oscars, THE GREY ZONE is based upon hard facts and tells those facts in the most visually compelling and emotionally devasting manner imaginable. Tim Blake Nelson directed and penned the screenplay based on his own play of the same name which in turn was based on the writings of camp survivor Dr Miklos Nyiszlis. The title is descriptive on many levels: the constant darkness of the atmosphere around Auschwitz from the smoke and ash debris of the crematoriums, the different zones with the camp that designated the various levels of waiting for annhilation, and that zone (grey) between life (white) and death (black) that allowed some of the Jews to elect to be Sonderkommandos - workers who lead their own people to the showers, reassuringly taking their clothes, locking them in the gas chambers, then unloading the bodies onto carts to transport to the crematoriums where they actually had to place the corpses into the ovens and cart away the ashes after the burnings. As the 'desparation of doing anything for survival' makes the indvidual do the incomprehensible, so does this film explore how crushed were the minds of these fated men and women.Nelson achieves a harrowing sense of reality by uncompromisingly showing all phases of life and death in the camps and he does this so successfully in his choice of terse taut dialogue, quiet voices, lingering images of eyes, and a pacing that seems as formidable as the facts at hand. He keeps the lighting, the atmosphere, the scoring, and the acting level at such a suffocatingly low key that the story becomes just that much more devastating. He also has drawn superb performances from an outstanding cast: David Arquette is brilliant in his embodiment of all that is pitiful in the destiny of these events, Allan Cordunes is stunning as Dr Nyiszlis, Harvey Keitel IS the Nazi in control, and Mira Sorvino, David Benzali, and Steve Buscemi are equally superb. The living memorial of this true story is that it tells of the only uprising of the Jews in the camps in a 1944 incident that managed to permanently destroy about half of the crematoriums in Auschwitz before that uprising ended in the mass execution of the perpetrators. A case in point of the sensitivity of this film: during the uprising the hauntingly beautiful "Alto Rhapsody" of Brahms is superimposed on the action - one of those inimitable moments of the marriage of arts as any ever captured on the screen.This is a very fine film but it may not be one that everyone can tolerate seeing. It is extrememly vivid, it does not spare the eye, but it never stoops to sensationalism. Even in the most gruesome of scenes there is a palpable presence of the indestructable human spirit. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED."
Tim Blake Nelson's story of the 12th Sonder-Kommandos
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 01/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I knew that "The Grey Zone" was about a sonder-kommando unit at a Nazi concentration camp, which in and of itself would be an intensely dramatic situation. The sonder-dommandos where the Jews at death camps, such as Auschwitz II-Birkenau, who escorted their fellow Jews to die in the gas chambers, then took the bodies to the crematoriums, and disposed of the ashes. For four months the sonder-kommandos carried out their duties, and enjoyed (for lack of a better word), extra food, cigarettes, and even clean sheets. "The Grey Zone" is set in October of 1944, which meant that the end of the war was in site as Allied troops were moving on Germany (this is before the Hitler's last great counter offensive, the Battle of the Bulge), so four months could well mean being alive. Of course, this is if the Nazis do not decide to kill everybody in the camp before it is liberated.Actually, there are a lot of "ifs" behind this 2001 film, directed by Tim Blake Nelson and adapted from his stage play. If you have a chance to live in a death camp, do you take advantage of that opportunity even if it means collaborating witn the Nazis who are gassing your people? In many other cinematic tales of the Holocaust there is the recurring idea that the sonder-kommando were worst that the Nazis, because they betrayed their own people, and the biggest "if" of all in this film remains what would YOU do if you were in this situation? You can say, "No, I would never do that," but then how many stories about the differences between behavioral intentions and overt behavior do you want me to tell you?I thought that haunting question was what "The Grey Zone" was about, but then I discovered that this was actually a historical drama, in the sense that it was based on a specific historical event: the October 7, 1944 uprising when members of the 12th sonder-kommando succeeded in blowing up two of the four crematoria at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. We learn at the end of the film that the ovens were never replaced and the significance of this accomplishment can only be guessed at in terms of how many lives were saved because the largest of the Nazi death camps had its capacity cut in half. But the actual revolt ends up being a relatively small part of the film. More importantly, it sets up another moral dilemma for the men of the 12th sonder-kommando.The leaders of the sonder-kommandos are played by David Arquette, Daniel Benzali, Steve Buscemi and David Chandler, and they have planned the revolt, while Natasha Lyonne and Mira Sorvino lead the women who work at the munitions plant and having been stealing gunpowder to be used in the attack. I mention the names of the actors without the characters both because names had been replaced by numbers in the camps and because having people like Arquette and Buscemi unforgettably acting against type is pretty memorable. The crisis comes on the eve of the uprising when a young girl (Kamelia Grigorova) survives the gassing and an impromptu decision is made to save her. The idea of burning her alive is too much for these men, but the question is whether they can risk what they are about to do for one person (you can see why this worked as a stage play and again, why the uprising itself is not really the main point of the story). This plot twist is critical, because without it "The Grey Zone" become less about moral dilemmas and more about one of the few times concentration camp inmates fought back against the Nazis. Would the 12th Sonder-kommandos have done what they did if they did not believe the end of the war was in sight? Why did the previous 11 groups never even try to do anything similar? Questions abound in both this film and its wake.Nelson's play is based in part on the book "Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account," by Miklos Nyiszli (Allan Corduner), who did the autopsies for Dr. Josef Mengele's infamous experiments on twins. He is a collaborator of a different type, doing his grim work because SS-Oberscharfuhrer Eric Muhsfeldt (Harvey Keitel) has promised to keep Nyiszli's wife and daughter alive. Again, the question of what you would do to stay alive or to save the lives of those you love, comes to the forefront, as does the question of what would then be considered going too far and where would you draw the line? Consequently, "The Grey Zone" is part of what I would call the second generation of Holocaust films, that go beyond providing the details on what happened in the camps and telling stories which are set in concentration camps. They are still about the Holocaust, but in a different way from what we have seen, most notably on the television mini-series "Holocaust" and "War and Remembrance.""
What is Up with the Negative Reviewers?
efoff | Ecotopia | 01/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am shocked by the negative reviews of this movie. Anyone who thinks "Schindler's List" was a good movie about the Shoah doesn't know anything about the Holocaust. The problem with "Schindler," "Life is Beautiful," and that PBS film from the seventies is that those films all ignore the tensions & conflicts between the inmates themselves. "Treblinka" by Steiner, "This Way for the Gas, Ladies & Gentlemen" by Borowski, "Auschwitz: True Tales from a Grotesque Land" by Nomberg-Przuytyk, "The Drowned & the Saved" by Levi--and dozens of others--all talk about the plight of the prisoners who became "muslims," and the brutality of the inmates who ran the different housing blocks. A prisoner became a "muslim" once that person became ill, discouraged, starving--and gave up hope. The "muslims" were so named because they would rock back & forth when sitting--similar to Muslims when they prayed (accord to Borowski). Inmates were responsible for the day to day operation of the camps, and there was a clear hierarchy; a strong social structure. In her book, Ms. Nomberg-Przuytyk explains that while it was terrible to get hit by the SS guards, it was much more shocking and demoralizing to be beaten by other inmates. Finally, Primo Levi makes it clear in all his books that the inmates who did the work they were assigned, did not try to shirk or hide from their tasks, ate their regular food rations and did not steal (or "organize") additional food--those people were all dead in six months. Inside the camps, if a prisoner was going to survive, survival had to come at the expense of other inmates. End of story. I invite everyone reading this review to read "The Grey Zone," a chapter from Levi's "Drowned," which discusses the morality behind making such choices.Now--with that kind of background, let's approach this film. For the reviewers who didn't like the "f-word"--I don't know what to say. The film makers are trying to communicate not a literal translation, but instead the emotional equivilent--expressions that communicate the same rage, hopelessness, anger. I'm sorry, but "oh dear" just won't cut it. More ridiculous are the complaints that actual inmates did not use profanity. Those men had to trick thousands into dying in the gas chambers, in exchange for a few additional months of life. A character in the movie even discovered the bodies of his own family, and put those bodies in the oven. Men willing to do that are going to draw the line at bad language? Read Filip Muller's "Eyewitness Auschwitz: Three Years in the Gas Chambers." Did you know there was a brothel in Auschwitz?The scenes of the sonderkommandos sitting around, drinking wine, eating rich foods--that is right out of Borowski's stories. All of that food was taken from prisoners brought to the camps, and sent directly to the gas chambers. The conning of the newly arrived prisoners into the gas chambers for a "shower"--everyone of the books I've mentioned describes those scenes in detail. The movie's portrayal of struggles between the the different cliques (the "hungarian" jews, the "polish" jews, the "greek" jews), as well as different parts of the camp competing against each other--all accurate. Harvey Keital as a fat, drunk, stupid, cynical, slob--very typical. Mia Sorvino's character could be any number of women described in Nomberg-Przuytyk's book. The hopeless anger, the grittiness, the arbitrary senseless cruelty--the whole feel of this movie is right.This is almost a perfect movie, if your favorite author on the Holocaust is Primo Levi.That said, I do have two criticisms of the movie. The film begins with the doctor main character having a conference with an older, bald guy, with a small amount of gray hair. I'm not sure, but apparently that was supposed to be Mengle. God I hope not--because part of the horror of Mengle was his boyish good looks. He had very black, very full dark hair. He had a pleasant smile, and looked much younger than his actual age. I must be mistaken, because there's no reason to cast an old bald guy as Mengle.A second criticism is more difficult. I love this movie, because of its feel, its accuracy, its subtlety. However, if you don't know much about the death camps, this movie may be hard to follow. But it's not as hard as some of these reviewers would have you believe. For example, at one point some SS soldiers are walking on a roof with gas masks on, shaking what looks like colored rock salt crystals out of a can down some open pipes. I can see that some people may not recognize that was how the zyclon-b gas was dropped in the death chambers.If you have any interest at all in Auschwitz, and want to see a movie that will give you a far truer picture of camp life--then see this movie. But if what you're interested in is believing that everyone in the camps were all one big happy family--well, there's lots of choices out there for you."
I AGREE with Michael Perry and here is some bibliography
Leucippe | new york, ny USA | 02/18/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"As one who regularly teaches Holocaust literature and film, I was finally disturbed at the anachronisms of the language and attitudes of these men of the Sonderkommandos (who did not, by the way, as one reviewer claimed, 'elect' to join; many did not even know what they were selected for -- and those who refused were immediately killed) but more to the point, Michael Perry is right on target with his comment: Those who made this film seem captive their own culture and place in history, unaware that any other exists. Most of those involved in these historical events were born in Eastern Europe in the first three decades of the twentieth century. That was a culture far different from our own. In the film, they are portrayed as acting and sounding like they were born our West coast in the last decades of the twentieth century. They're vain, self-obsessed and foul-mouthed with small and petty egos. [they could be East Coast too, by the way]
I'm not talking about a lack of the slight Hungarian accents that more talented filmmakers might have added to lend a bit of realism. The problem is not that most of the characters have modern American accents. The problem is that their attitudes and the content of what they're saying is that of today's Los Angeles rather than the Budapest of long ago. Their debates about what to do have all the sallowness of those waiting in line to get tickets for a rock concert. The result rings untrue. "
This is why I would never teach this film or recommend it to my students. more's the pity, since the film takes risks in other ways.
Finally, for those interested in personal testimony, besides Filip Müller, who appears in Lanzmann's Shoah, author of Eyewitness Auschwitz - Three Years in the Gas Chambers, there is the most recent: nside the Gas Chambers: Eight Months in the Sonderkommando of Auschwitz by Shlomo Venezia (Wiley & Sons, 2009), The Holocaust odyssey of Daniel Bennahmias, Sonderkommando Rebecca Camhi Fromer, and the excellent work of Gideon Greif, We Wept Without Tears: Testimonies of the Jewish Sonderkommando from Auschwitz, and the rare book, Scrolls of Auschwitz, containing translations of the testimony buried in bottles and other receptacles in the crematoria in Auschwitz."
This is the real deal. Powerful to say the least.
Stuart Gibson | Los Gatos, CA United States | 11/13/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Tim Blake Nelson directs an outstanding ensemble cast in what to my mind is the definitively realistic portrayal of WWII atrocities. Unlike 'Schindler's List' or 'The Pianist', there is but a shred of happy ending here. And it is simply that a small group of hopeless people did what they could to atone for their shameful choices, and to strike a blow for humanity, however brief and ultimately ineffectual. This is a stunning movie based on a true story. There's not a single wrong note, bad performance, forced sympathy, or easy out. It's bleak and powerful."