“Review of The Zone of Interest: Jonathan Glazer’s film delves into the Holocaust, offering an unrelenting portrayal of the banality of evil.”

Director Jonathan Glazer takes on the Holocaust with a chillingly anthropological approach in “The Zone of Interest.”

The Zone of Interest

In “The Zone of Interest,” director Jonathan Glazer takes a new and effectively horrifying approach to the subject matter of the Holocaust, focusing on Commandant Rudolf Höss of Auschwitz (played by Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (portrayed by Sandra Hüller), and their family. Rather than depicting the atrocities of Auschwitz firsthand, the film portrays the Höss family’s domestic bliss just over the wall of the infamous concentration camp. Gunshots and screams are heard during a garden party, and the fiery glow and smoke clouds of the crematorium are visible from the bedroom window. This juxtaposition creates a world that is ordered and idyllic for the Höss family, contrasting sharply with the imagery typically associated with films about this era.

In “The Zone of Interest,” Glazer offers audiences an anthropological study of the Nazi family, presenting them with a naturalism that belies their evil. Shot entirely with natural light and multiple simultaneously running cameras, the film portrays the Höss family in a way that makes them relatable—they fret over their garden and read bedtime stories to their children, just like any ordinary family. However, what makes the film so stomach-turning is the banality of their evil—their ability to go about their daily lives while atrocities occur only a few feet away.

Rudolf Höss conducts business meetings about increasing crematorium efficiency and worries more about the health of the camp’s lilac bushes than the human lives in his hands. Christian Friedel delivers a chilling performance as Höss, portraying him not as a mustache-twirling Nazi stereotype, but as a family man overly committed to his job.

The Zone of Interest

Hüller delivers an even more affecting performance as Hedwig, breathing life into the woman’s complicity. Unlike her husband, Hedwig isn’t directly involved in orchestrating mass murder on a daily basis. However, she engages in disturbing acts such as picking through the clothes and belongings of interned Jews to keep them for herself. Wrapped in a fur coat seized from an internee and allowing her children to play with the victims’ gold teeth, her casual routines become all the more sinister due to the simplicity with which Hüller portrays them.

While “The Zone of Interest” occasionally veers into avant-garde territory with prolonged shots of blank screens and decontextualized night-vision sequences, these moments are frustrating blips in an otherwise harrowing cinematic experience.

Mica Levi’s score plays a crucial role in intensifying the audience’s discomfort throughout the film. Its atonal dissonance and choral arrangements, resembling strangled screams, create an atmosphere akin to a nightmare. If simply imagining the events occurring in the Hoss family’s backyard isn’t enough to make you feel ill, the visceral experience of hearing the score certainly will.

“The Zone of Interest” stands out as a formal and chilling Holocaust film, primarily due to its portrayal of the Hoss family as ordinary human beings. It serves as a stark reminder of our complicity and the potential for immense evil in the most mundane of circumstances. Watching the film is an unforgettable experience, even if it’s one I may never be able to endure again.

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