Film Review: The Zone of Interest | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 2nd, 2023  

The Zone of Interest

Studio: A24
Johnathan Glazer

Oct 08, 2023 Web Exclusive
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Johnathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is a terrifying look at the banality of evil in Nazi Germany. The film received rapturous praise at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, taking home the Grand Prix (second place) Prize.

Very freely adapted from Martin Amis’ novel of the same name, The Zone of Interest takes a different approach to exploring the effects of the war. The film centers around Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), the commandant of Auschwitz, and his family, who live in a large house that borders the concentration camp’s walls. While Rudolf is at work, his wife, Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller) tends to their five children and household chores, ordering her servants around to cook, tend to her garden, and make the home hospitable.

Throughout the film, Glazer rarely leaves this setting. The horrors of the camp beyond the house are refracted solely through background visuals and sounds. This juxtaposition drives most of the film. Summer parties are shadowed by clouds of ash. Sounds of screaming and bullets fly as the main characters try to sleep. When the director does leave the confines of the house, it’s mainly to depict Rudolf bureaucratically planning his camp–organizing transports, approving crematorium designs, or instructing his soldiers on how to do their jobs.

Much of the film is purposefully aimless, showing these characters living “normal” lives to exhibit the extent of their evil. The film is woven together by a small narrative, though, when Rudolf discovers that he has been transferred to a different position, based in Berlin. This is the major conflict in Rudolf’s and Hedwig’s lives; the two must decide if the family should relocate to the German capital or split up for the duration of Rudolf’s assignment. It’s a purposefully thin narrative, to further exhibit how, within the context of where they live and who they are, their problems are minimal and unimportant.

As expected, The Zone of Interest is extremely difficult to watch. Glazer is constantly in complete command of the direction. The filmmaker often keeps his camera stationary, usually placing it in the corners of rooms to let the characters act for themselves. Doing this makes the juxtaposition between the two sides of the barbed-wired walls all the more striking, as characters constantly tend to their own lives, pretending (or, perhaps more accurately, truly believing) that they can lead normal lives. This element, paired with Mica Levi’s haunting score, successfully makes the audience uncomfortable for even watching the movie, sitting back and knowing exactly how the situation on the screen will unfold, and how there’s nothing they can do about it.

Glazer’s decision to focus on the mundane aspect of the Höss’ lives makes sense, as it is a clear way to explore the banality of evil. Regardless, the film often sacrifices a clear narrative, with a clear and unwavering thematic message, for fragments of one. This helps communicate this horrifying juxtaposition but does little to make the audience confront concepts other than the ones spelled out by its initial synopsis. Describing the film as directionless would be inaccurate, as Glazer knows where he wants to take the story. But, more often than not, it feels like the film’s narrative was constructed solely from fragments of characters’ daily lives, rather than the other way around. The result is a film whose themes are always inferred, for better and worse.

Author rating: 6.5/10

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