The Grey Zone

Release Date: October 18, 2002
Limited release

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A film that premiered at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival, Tim Blake Nelson's The Grey Zone has enjoyed fantastic reviews and will soon receive a limited release in theaters from distributor Lions Gate Films.

Though he is probably best known for his role as Delmar in O Brother, Where Art Thou, Nelson recently directed "O," a teen version of Othello that starred Josh Hartnett, Mekhi Phifer and Julia Stiles. "O" was far from a typical teen film. It was so grim and dark in its portrayal of heavy issues that it sat on the shelf for some time before finally receiving a small theatrical release.

Nelson goes even deeper into weighty issues with The Grey Zone, which is a film version of his play by the same title, which was in turn based on Miklos Nyiszli's book, Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account. The story takes place in the Auschwitz death camp in Poland in the autumn of 1944. Some of the Jewish prisoners in the camp at the time were designated as Sonderkommando, a unit that was assigned the horrific task of preparing their fellow prisoners for the gas chambers, including informing them that they were going to be "taking a shower". The inmates receive benefits for this work, including better food and living quarters, alcohol, cigarettes and even music, in addition to an extra four months of life. All the while, the pall of guilt and eventual condemnation hangs over the men and they find themselves living in a moral "grey zone." Much of the film focuses on a planned uprising by the Sonderkommandos that they hope will bring an end to the horrors they witness every day, as well as giving them peace in their hearts.

The cast includes David Arquette, Daniel Benzali (Murder One), Steve Buscemi, Mira Sorvino, Natasha Lyonne and Harvey Keitel, who plays Dr. Nyiszli, the Hungarian Jewish physician who was forced to work for Dr. Mengele and eventual author of the aforementioned eyewitness account. All accounts indicate that The Grey Zone is meticulous in its attention to detail, and relies on subtle performances from the actors to convey its message. One can only imagine that the film must be deeply personal for Nelson, whose own mother's family escaped Germany just before Kristallnacht, which was the beginning of the coordinated attack on Jews by the German Reich late in 1938.

Lions Gate plans to initially release the film in New York and Los Angeles, followed by expansion to more cities and screens at a later time. Since The Grey Zone deals with issues and themes that will be fairly overwhelming for mainstream audiences, I would expect it to stay on a very limited number of screens, though it does seem a likely candidate for awards consideration late in the year. (Kim Hollis/BOP)

Vital statistics for The Grey Zone
Main Cast Harvey Keitel, David Arquette, Steve Buscemi, Mira Sorvino
Supporting Cast Daniel Benzali, Allan Corduner, Natasha Lyonne, Brian F. O'Byrne
Director Tim Blake Nelson
Screenwriter Tim Blake Nelson
Distributor Lions Gate
Talent in red has entry in The Big Picture



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