Tuesday 27 February 2024

The Zone Of Interest (2023)

If you want to go to the cinema and enjoy a fun bit of escapism then I don’t recommend rushing to see The Zone Of Interest. Director Jonathan Glazer doesn’t tend to deliver feelgood films. He does deliver greatness though, and I believe you could make a case for every one of his films to be considered a modern masterpiece.

In case you have missed any conversation about this one, The Zone Of Interest is the film all about Auschwitz that doesn’t ever show us the horrors inside the camp. We spend most of our time watching the house situated right beside the camp, the residence of camp commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife (Hedwig, played by Sandra Hüller), and their young children. There are some other areas shown (an office and a basement “washroom” are used for one or two memorable moments), but the crux of the film is the idyllic family home juxtaposed against what we know is going on in Auschwitz.

We all know that Nazis were bad. We should all know that Nazis are still bad. I firmly believe in the “it’s always okay to punch a Nazi” adage, and I am constantly bewildered by people who try to use the freedom of speech argument to defend hatespeech and scapegoating a whole demographic to help turn everyone else against them. If you are reading this review, I assume we agree. So I can understand people rolling their eyes and sighing as they wondered why we even need this film. Well, I think it does a great job of highlighting just how evil deeds are normalised, and how a holocaust is propped up by the many people who decided to do nothing, either through ignorance, misplaced faith in others doing the right thing, or self-preservation.

Although both Friedel and Hüller are both excellent in their roles, with the latter having the kind of year, between this and Anatomy Of A Fall, that should take her career stratospheric, their performances are boosted by the location, and the atmosphere of dread and terror creeping around the edge of every frame. Whether it’s a shot of smoking chimneys or the top of a train arriving at the concentration camp, or even the constant soundtrack of muffled cries and pain, this is a film that knows the main character is Auschwitz itself, one of the most heinous places to have ever been constructed.

Glazer, adapting the novel by Martin Amis, knows exactly how to treat the material. The apparent banality of everything onscreen just makes you feel worse about what is going on “behind the scenes”, and some of the conversations, whether they are about increasing the efficiency of the death machine, being recognised for a job well done, or sorting through clothing, pack the kind of punch that may leave some viewers feeling slightly winded.

There’s a lot more I could say about this, despite struggling to find the right words and trying not to repeat myself too much, but I think the viewing experience speaks for itself. It would be good to think that we have learned from history, but a brief glance at the latest news headlines has me doubting that. Ah well, at least I have been reminded of my own willingness to punch Nazis. So maybe there is a bit of a feelgood factor to the film after all.


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1 comment:

  1. At this point the problem is a lot of people don't know what was going on behind the scenes or subscribe to some loony conspiracy theory about it. I don't really imagine this movie helping much with that.