JulieRL’s review published on Letterboxd:
I watched this after watching Ladyknightthebrave on youtube interviewing Rich Brownstein, writer of a book on holocaust movies. He has watched every film there is (around 400 films!!).
In the video, Brownstein said this is the greatest Holocaust film ever made. And that is why I am here. Shockingly, nobody has seen it. It came out literally on 9/11 so it had unfortunate timing. The interview touches on how the "usual" film we watch, Schindler's List is ok but has issues. Schindler's List is about a nazi saving jews. It is a true story, of a man who redeems himself, but there were other gentiles to make a story of who saved more jews and who were not nazis. Schindler's List is not about the 6 million jews who died, but about... Schindler. I am not doing a great job here - go watch the video! Or maybe buy his book.
(They absolutely go into why the Boy in the Striped Pyjama is not a good film! )
But here, in The Grey Zone, also based on a true story, some jews get to live 4 months extra and get to live better, in exchange for helping the Nazis clear our the bodies of the people they murder in the gas chambers. This group, however, decideds they want to destroy the crematoriums. They know they will die when their time is up, so they decide to take action.
Instead of being about one Gentile saviour (hiding one man in the basement, or saving a few hundred in a factory, or wanting to play with someone across a fence) this is actually about the people this is about- the Jews in Birkenau. Not only that, it even goes into how there are Polish and Hungarian etc. groups. They don't all speak the same language! It is about people participating in abhorent things, trying to survive, and also fighting back. The doctor, in particular, who is Jewish and has worked under Mengele is haunting in the vile things he goes along with.
The visuals are very effective. Smoke coming out of the chimneys all hours of the day, ash being shovelled, clothes hanging behind on hooks, the workers painting the gas chambers. There are bodies and people in fear, but it isn't played for shock value. This tells the story of people in an impossible situation, making decisions for themselves.
I find holocaust movies very difficult to choose to watch, it is so horrid I want to look away like most of us probably, but if you are going to pick one and listen to a true story - make it this one.