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Film Review: Jonathan Glazer’s Brilliant “The Zone of Interest”- An Invisible Look at the Holocaust

The Holocaust has been the subject of over 400 films, going back to the early part of the last century with Night Train to Munich, directed by Carol Reed, and was the first feature to depict concentration camps. Some of the later films include The Sorrow and the Pity (Marcel Ophuls); The Counterfeiters (Stefan Ruzowitzky;) Son of Saul (László Nemes;) Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg;) Au Revoir les Enfants (Louis Malle;) The Diary of Anne Frank (George Stevens;) 

Naked Among Wolves (Phillip Kadelbach;) and Life is Beautiful (Roberto Benigni).  What these films have in common is the depiction of the unspeakable conditions under which Jewish prisoners were warehoused and eventually exterminated.  

The latest film to fall into this genre is writer/director Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest, which he adapted from a 2014 novel by Martin Amis.  

This film is United Kingdom’s Official Entry for the 96th Academy Awards, and although the story does fall into the Holocaust genre, this is a stand-alone film as we never actually see the interior of Auschwitz, but Johnnie Burn’s sound design clearly lets us know what’s going on behind that wall. The story revolves around Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, brilliantly played by Christian Friedel, and his wife Hedwig, played by the most talented Sandra Hüller.  

As the movie opens, we see what appears to be a normal day at the lake with family and friends. They frolic in the water, picnic, have lively conversations, and are having a wonderful time. Back at the house, Hedwig gives her mother, who is visiting their impressive two-story stucco villa for the first time, a tour of the gardens filled with a variety of plants, flowers, fruits, vegetables, and vines crawling up the garden walls – walls that separate this happy family from the horrors taking place at Auschwitz, just on the other side.  

This is Rudolph’s dream house, which he gained through his devotion to Hitler, and his family lives a normal life.  Hedwig is a good mother and enjoys living in this rather palatial home.  She has a pleasant social life with the other officers’ wives as they sit around the kitchen table, where they gossip and laugh.  Hedwig talks about her maids as if they are invisible. Her husband dutifully reads bedtime stories to his children as little ones on the other side of the wall are fed into ovens – the Final Solution of which he was one of the major architects wherein he perfected mass extermination techniques.  

Bear in mind the subject of Auschwitz, the concentration camp on the outskirts of Oświęcim, Poland, never comes up in conversations, but the horrors taking place behind that wall are delineated by an occasional gunshot, dogs barking, babies crying, and electrifying muted screams. There is absolutely no reaction by anyone in the house as they continue to live their daily lives – cooking, cleaning, entertaining people for dinner. 

There are many brilliant moments, but one that will be seared into your brain is Hedwig trying on a mink coat, which we quickly understand belonged to one of the female prisoners. Admiring herself in the mirror is magnificently captured by director of photography Łukasz Żal’s meticulous camerawork, which, throughout the film, delicately paints a picture of this family’s almost surreal daily life against the backdrop of unspeakable unseen cruelty. Auteur Glazer’s last feature film was the haunting Under the Skin ten years ago. His The Zone of Interest is well worth the intermission as there has never been another film quite like this one.

The Zone of Interest
Written and Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Based on the Novel by Martin Amis
Produced by James Wilson, Ewa Puszczyńska
Starring Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller
Director of Photography Łukasz Żal 
Production Design: Chris Oddy
Editing: Paul Watts
Costume Design: Małgorzata Karpiuk
Music: Mica Levi 
Sound Design: Johnnie Burn 
Distributor:  A24
Language:  German, English Sub-Titles
Running Time 106 minutes
Rating PG-13
Language:  German 
Running Time 106 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Release Date:  
December 15, 2023
(limited)

in News
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