The Zone of Interest


Category:  History & Sociology

By:  outis  •  2 months ago  •  5 comments

The Zone of Interest

Next door to Auschwitz, a million miles away (Detroit News)

Jonathan Glazer’s unforgettable Auschwitz drama is a brutal masterpiece (The Guardian)


I saw this film a week or ten days ago, and haven't been able to get it out of my mind.

I don't know which is more terrifying: the servants' eyes-down obedience or the meeting of high SS officers to plan the next phase of extermination.

Here are two reviews that try to grasp the gentle horror of this film.

'The Zone of Interest' review: Next door to Auschwitz, a million miles away

Jonathan Glazer's fourth film is a chilling meditation on turning the other cheek.

Such a pretty house and such a pretty garden. Let's just not talk about what's over the wall.

There's plenty of looking the other way in "The Zone of Interest," director Jonathan Glazer's stark, pitch black, meditative drama about a German family living an idyllic life right next door to the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust, where an estimated 1.1 million murders of men, women and children, mostly Jews, were carried out.

Glazer's work functions less like a film and more like an art piece, designed to hang, linger and provoke a reaction. It's a deeply unsettling work, sickening and cold, that is likely to leave viewers feeling dazed. It's in no way enjoyable, but in a lot of ways necessary.

Christian Friedel stars as Rudolf Höss, the Nazi SS officer who was the longest-tenured commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He lives with his family, including his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller, Oscar-nominated for "Anatomy of a Fall"), just this side of the camp.

The two properties are separated by a tall barbed wire-topped wall, over which screams, gunshots and the hum of furnaces can constantly be heard. But Hedwig tends to her garden, and their five children play in the sun-splashed yard, as if nothing at all is happening a few hundred yards away.

Glazer's film, adapted from Martin Amis' 2014 book of the same name, is loose in its narrative structure, and challenging in its lack of dramatic beats. There are no easy outs here, no fits of conscience, no redemptive arcs for its characters. Glazer takes difficult material and makes it even more difficult, with cutaways to film negative imagery, jolting bursts of color and one gut punch of a flash forward that will render viewers breathless.

If the performances are inward and inert, that's by design. Composer Mica Levi, reuniting with Glazer after they teamed together on her first film with 2013's "Under the Skin," does some dramatic heavy lifting with her ugly, gurgling horror movie score.

It's appropriate, because in many ways "The Zone of Interest" is a horror movie, in its flat, mundane depiction of the normalization of human atrocity. It happened once and it can happen again, we're reminded. It's a searing film, unforgettable in the worst way: You'll want to get away from it, but you can't.

The Zone of Interest review – Jonathan Glazer’s unforgettable Auschwitz drama is a brutal masterpiece

Only the constant pall of smoke, and a dread-inducing soundscape, tell of the horrors beyond the wall as the idyllic life of the commandant of the death camp and his family rolls by in Glazer’s Oscar-nominated film

Before you read on, a word of caution. There are some films – many of them – that impress on a first viewing but which start to trickle away, like a handful of sand, the moment you leave the cinema. Then there are others, far fewer in number, that strike like a lightning bolt on a first watch and stay with you, scarring themselves into your psyche and subtly but permanently shifting your movie-viewing paradigm on its axis. Jonathan Glazer’s masterful and chilling  The Zone of Interest  fell into the second group for me. I left it shaken and stricken; it stayed with me, stubbornly, over the months that followed.

As most film fans will agree, that kind of viscerally intense response to a film is the holy grail of cinema viewing. It’s a vanishingly rare experience, and one that is magnified by the sense of discovery that comes from knowing virtually nothing about a film going in (I knew that it was a loose adaptation of  the novel of the same title  by Martin Amis, but little else). So with that in mind, to any readers who remain in the privileged position of knowing nothing about  The Zone of Interest , consider putting aside this review and watching the film first. Otherwise, read on.

To describe  The Zone of Interest  as an adapted screenplay is perhaps misleading (although it has secured an Oscar nomination in that category, along with four others, including best picture and best director). In fact, the film is very much its own brooding, boldly unconventional entity, sharing with Amis’s book a title and a location – Auschwitz, or more specifically just outside the walls of the camp, in the home of a high-ranking Nazi and his family – but little else.

The walls are a crucial component of this film, which shows the daily details of the life of an upwardly mobile Nazi couple – the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), and his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) – and their five children. The Höss family are raised according to the tenets of the Artaman League, a German anti-urban, back-to-the-land movement that advocated an agrarian ideal and respect for the natural world (Rudolf, a man who presides over the murders of thousands of people each week, dictates an aggrieved memo about the lack of respect for his prized lilacs).

They enjoy wholesome, halcyon picnics by the river (predominantly captured, like most of the picture, in dispassionate mid and wide shots) and idyllic days in the lush, lovingly tended garden of the Höss villa, a source of considerable pride for Hedwig. We never see beyond the walls that separate her cherished roses and dahlias from the industrial death factory on the other side. But through Johnnie Burn’s incredible, immersive sound design, the ambient noise generated by the horrors within the camp is evoked with a suffocating intensity that matches the choking pall of smoke billowing continuously from the Auschwitz furnace chimneys.

Burn’s remarkable work is not the only aural element that contributes to the film’s brutal power. Glazer reteams with composer Mica Levi, his collaborator on his previous film,  Under  the Skin . Levi’s sparsely used score, accompanying eerie night-vision thermal images, jolts us out of the oblivious banality of the Höss household. And their compositions bookend the picture, with what sounds like a chorus of tormented souls.

A gnawing sense of dread permeates the entire film, created through sound and score, but also through telling details, such as the way the father’s work has polluted his children’s play (the older boy locks his little brother in a greenhouse and then teases him by making the hissing sound of gas). Imagine the stress levels of the chilling baby-on-the-beach sequence from  Under  the Skin , but stretched out to feature length. It’s a bruising watch.

original Unshowy but impeccable in the two main roles, both  Friedel and Hüller  excel. Friedel plays Rudolf as a pedantic, mid-level bureaucrat with a thin, needling voice and a despot’s haircut, whose unquestioning efficiency and commitment to the cause of National Socialism has facilitated his rapid ascent within the SS.

Sandra Hüller as Hedwig Höss in The Zone of Interest .

And Hüller’s Hedy chortles over her good fortune as she cherrypicks the choicest possessions of murdered Jewish prisoners, parading her newly elevated status like a purloined mink coat. Nowhere is the understated brilliance of Hüller’s performance better demonstrated than in the delivery of a single line of dialogue, said to her housemaid: “I could have my husband spread your ashes across the fields of Babice.” It could be wielded like a deadly weapon, but Hüller says it conversationally, almost pleasantly. The impact all but knocks the breath from your body.


jrDiscussion - desc
Freshman Principal
1  author  Outis    2 months ago

"Nice" people.....

Professor Principal
2  JohnRussell    2 months ago

I hadn't really heard or seen much about this movie until it was talked about around the time of the Academy Awards, and after that I looked it up a little bit on the internet and watched the trailer and it does look like a very important and interesting story about the Holocaust. I'm looking forward to watching it as soon as I can on whatever streaming channel it comes on.

Freshman Principal
2.1  author  Outis  replied to  JohnRussell @2    2 months ago

It's... challenging...

Professor Principal
3  Kavika     2 months ago

I had not heard much about it until the Oscars and like JR I'm looking forward to seeing it once its on a streaming channel.

Freshman Principal
3.1  author  Outis  replied to  Kavika @3    2 months ago

I can't imagine how an Native American would interpret it.

I'm a straight male WASP. Never been near this kind of evil. I cannot conceive it.


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