Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is among the most unsettling films to come out in the last few years.
PLOT: Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) is named the commandant of Auschwitz. His wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) builds a dream life for the family in the camp’s bucolic outskirts while unimaginable suffering occurs just moments from their doorstep.
REVIEW: Director Jonathan Glazer doesn’t make many films (including this, only four in the last twenty-three years), but when he does, you can bet it’ll pack a wallop. This is certainly true of The Zone of Interest, which takes inspiration from Martin Amis’ novel of the same name and is a Holocaust movie unlike any other you’ve seen. While Schindler’s List and the more recent Son of Saul did a great job depicting the horror, The Zone of Interest perhaps does an even better job portraying the inhumanity of Nazi Germany. That Glazer does this without ever taking us inside the walls of the concentration camp itself or even showing a single scene of violence is the point.
What he’s trying to convey – and he does so brilliantly – is that for people like the Höss family, the mass murder of Jews in concentration camps simply wasn’t something they cared about or thought about. To Rudolf, they were a logistical problem to solve, but their lives themselves weren’t important to him. For Hedwig, it wasn’t even a case of her turning a blind eye. You don’t have to turn a blind eye to something if you don’t care. To her, the screams she heard from the camps while toiling around in the garden were nothing. She cared about as much for the people dying as she would an ant she stepped on. Sandra Hüller, who was so brilliant in Toni Erdmann, is chilling in her depiction of the true banality of evil.
It all adds up The Zone of Interest being one of the most unsettling films in years. The alien Scarlett Johansson played in Under the Skin had more empathy than these two have, with Hüller’s performance the most chilling of all. We see her delightedly show her mother around their sprawling new home, which was stolen from Jews, and explain, without a hint of remorse, how when new people are brought in to be exterminated, she gets first dibs on all the property that’s been confiscated, bemusedly pointing out the diamond she found in a tube of toothpaste. That she plays the whole movie as so chipper makes her all the more horrifying, although Glazer shows us a more sadistic streak, as whenever she fights with her husband, she takes her wrath out on her household staff, which consists of Polish slave labor.
There’s almost no story, with Glazer just observing the Höss family as they go about their lives. The movie opens up in the third act, with Rudolf having to move back to Germany. Hedwig is so desperate to hold onto the idyllic life she’s found at Auschwitz that she opts to stay behind with the children. Glazer and his DP Łukasz Żal make you feel like you’re a fly on the wall, which is unsettling when you’re watching such a film. While mostly absent, they include a few surrealistic touches, and the Mica Levi score is avant-garde and modern.
Glazer’s style will likely turn off some audience members, and the movie has already proven to be divisive. My bandwidth is usually limited as far as movies like this go, but Glazer has a good sense of his audience’s limit, keeping the film a manageable length. While some might be wondering whether we need another movie about the Holocaust, the film’s message that we humans are perfectly capable of dehumanizing those we see as “other” can’t be denied. In some ways, by having us observe the Höss family, we start to feel almost culpable. That’s certainly not easy to endure, but if something like The Zone of Interest inspires introspection in its viewers, it’s a worthwhile film.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/the-zone-of-interest-tiff-review/