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A Not So Merry Movie

The bait

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Holiday movies are traditionally light-hearted attempts at restoring faith in human kind.

In short, they are nothing like Tim Blake Nelson's The Grey Zone (2001). Though well written and engagingly performed by an all-star cast, it is one of the most relentlessly grim movies ever made. And unless the folks at UM baited you with the chance to chat post-screening with the film's star, legendary American actor Harvey Keitel, you probably wouldn't want to sit through it, either.

Not now, not ever.

Indeed, such were the circumstances under which I agreed to navigate the sea of bad drivers surging down US-1 last night only to realize, too late, I had been duped.

Nelson, himself the son of a Holocaust survivor, might be best known for his slack-jawed comic portrayals in films such as O Brother Where Art Thou and The Good Girl , but The Grey Zone seeks not to comfort audiences, but remind them of perhaps the darkest time and darkest place in recent human history. The film is set in Auschwitz, 1944, among the Sonderkommando -- Jewish inmates who were granted special privileges and a four-month reprieve from the chamber in exchange for escorting their fellow interned to their deaths and sweeping up the incinerated remains. And the footage spares audiences nothing, a relentless onslaught of nightmare images: furnaces belching black smoke, corpses piled atop one another like firewood, gray ash - the incinerated residue of humanity - coating nearly everything.

Granted, in the multiplex world of banal entertainment, Nelson shows mankind's uncompromisingly ugly underbelly for what it is, but the folks at UM should be ashamed of themselves for luring viewers into this hauntingly dismal place on false pretenses.

It turns out Keitel never agreed to sit through yet another showing of this unremittingly grim film. And who can blame him. -Joanne Green

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