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Review: The Zone of Interest (2023)

The Zone of Interest (2023)

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Premise: Based on the novel by Martin Amis. In 1943, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his family live a quiet domestic life next to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland where Höss is the commandant.

What Works: There are lots of movies about World War II and about the Holocaust. Filmmaker Jonathan Glazer finds a unique angle into the topic with The Zone of Interest. This film portrays Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil perhaps more effectively than any other film about the Nazis. Although The Zone of Interest is set literally next to a death camp we are never shown the atrocities. The closest we get to the horrors is seeing is the fumes and ashes of the death camp smokestacks and hearing gunshots and faint screams. The filmmakers use sound very effectively; the faint echoes of the atrocities happening next door drift through scenes in a way that is haunting. The background horror contrasts with the beatific portrait of domestic life. Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) live with their children on an impressive estate. Hedwig entertains family and friends and fusses over domestic matters and home improvements while her husband oversees the operations at Auschwitz. What’s so unusual about The Zone of Interest is how very usual everything is; the matter-of-fact quality is disturbing. And in this respect, The Zone of Interest isn’t just about World War II or the Nazis or the Holocaust. It’s about the way in which people go through life while crimes against humanity occur just out of sight.

What Doesn’t: The Zone of Interest does not operate within the typical narrative forms that we’re accustomed to seeing in feature films. There really is no plot. This isn’t a story so much as it is a portrait of a family at a particular point in their lives. The filmmakers realize the limits of that format and The Zone of Interest is long enough to make its point but does not overstay its welcome. Nevertheless, this will be a challenging film for viewers who are accustomed to a more pronounced narrative shape. The Zone of Interest is best seen in a movie theater. The sound mix is extremely important to the film and that’s likely to be lost when The Zone of Interest is viewed at home especially by moviegoers who don’t have a surround sound audio setup.

Bottom Line: The Zone of Interest is a challenging film in its style and in its implications. This is a significant addition to the canon of Holocaust cinema but the film’s meaning extends beyond that specific historical circumstance to implicate the way in which we are adjusted to abuse and atrocities.  

Episode: #984 (February 11, 2024)