Thursday, July 31, 2003

The Grey Zone, Tim Blake Nelson's 2001 film about the Sonderkommando in Auschwitz, accomplishes the impossible: It's a Holocaust film which takes us directly into the extermination camp without smarm or sentimentality or exploitation, something that has never been accomplished before. Schindler's List, let us recall, only gives us brief glimpses of Auschwitz. TGZ is set almost totally in Auschwitz and makes it horrifyingly real.

The details all ring true: The mordant gloom of the eternally-cloudy skies of southeastern Poland, the casual gradations of violence and murder inside what amounts to a religious temple devoted to violence and murder, the passing tableaux of life in an extermination camp presented without leering or editorial commentary. There is an invented subplot involving a young girl who survives the gas chamber, but it rings true.

I love nearly all of the cast, especially Steve Buscemi, David Arquette, and Daniel Benzali. Harvey Keitel's psychotronic German accent is annoying as hell, but I got over it after a while.

This is one of those odd, rare films that I can't talk about in terms of quality, whether it's good or bad. It just sort of is.

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