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The true story of Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew chosen by Josef Mengele to be the head pathologist at Auschwitz. Nyiszli was one of Auschwitz's Sonderkommandos - Special Squads of Jewish prisoners placed by the Nazis in the excruciating moral dilemma of helping to exterminate fellow Jews in exchange for a few more months of life. Together, the Sonderkommandos struggled to organize the only armed revolt that would ever take place at Auschwitz. As the rebellion is about to commence, a group from the unit discovers a 14-year-old girl who has miraculously survived a gassing. A catalyst for their desperate attempt at personal redemption, the men become obsessed with saving this one child, even if doing so endangers the uprising which could save thousands. To what terrible lengths are we willing to go to save our own lives, and what in turn would we sacrifice to save the lives of others? Written by
Sujit R. Varma
This is the second film from writer/director/actor Tim Blake Nelson to disappear into film limbo. Known for his leading role in O Brother Where Art Thou, he also wrote and directed O, which was shelved after the Columbine massacre. It has taken 3 years for The Grey Zone to arrive on Australian shores, and it has now gone straight to video. This is a great shame as this is a stunning film worthy of far more attention. It is the true story of the Sonderkommando groups in Auschwitz, the most infamous of all Nazi concentration camps. The Sonderkommandos were Jewish prisoners who volunteered to work on the gas chambers and furnaces in exchange for better treatment and extended life. No team ever lasted more than 4 months, and would themselves be added to the groups herded into the gas chamber by the next sonderkommando group. This is the tale of the 12th group, who used their position to revolt against the Nazis and blow up the two primary gas chambers/furnaces. There are many flaws within the film; the dialogue feels too much like a play which makes the discussions somewhat static, everybody has an American accent except for Harvey Keitel who somehow manages to sound like Mel Brooks impersonating a German, and the details of how they select Sonderkommandos and their lifestyles are not very well dealt with. However, these faults do very little to diminish the power of this film. For above all else, this is a story that not only succeeds in answering the question of why Jews would volunteer for such a duty, but also allows the viewer a stunning and horrifying look into human psychology and the politics of oppression. While a film like Schindler's List allows us a broader view of the overall situation, it failed to truly give any insight into the individuals who allowed the machines of war to keep operating. How could people not rise up and at least to try fight knowing they were going to die anyway? The Grey Zone gives the viewer a very clear and very painful view of the weakness within humanity, of how humans allow themselves to be convinced that everything will be ok, no matter what evidence we have in front of us. In telling the story of the one uprising to occur within the most destructive of all concentration camps, we get to show the good in man, and the evil. And in this the film succeeds above many other films, and is worthy of praise far surpassing the melodramatic tripe that Hollywood usually tries to feed us in regards to the second world war. And, in our current political climate, it is more important than ever to understand how easily we fall back on our ability to turn a blind eye and believe the lies that even our next door neighbour will tell us.
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