The Zone of Interest Review

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Movie: The Zone of Interest

Production Company: Film4 Productions

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Producers: Reno Antoniades, Daniel Battsek, Len Blavatnik

Scriptwriters: Jonathan Glazer

Main Cast: Christian Friedel, Sandra Huller

Release Date: 2nd February 2024

Running Time: 105 minutes

Certificate: 12A

Introduction: Based on a horrifying true story, Jonathan Glazer’s depiction of a family living next to Auschwitz is about as disturbing yet crucial as cinema can possibly get.

Synopsis: Rudolf Hoss, who was the Nazi commandant of Auschwitz, strives and hopes to build his family their dream home situated directly next to the camp.

Analysis: I have always loved films that tackle remarkably powerful yet tricky and difficult subject matters as they can create something so important out of it. Much to my surprise, ‘The Zone of Interest’ received a 12A certificate from the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) which I think, in turn, is a very sensible and mature decision as there is simply no need to make it a 15 given how the film turns out. The same can of course be said of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. It’s all about what you do with the story, what you do and do not show. I can see this being taught in schools in the future. It must also be mentioned that the film has received 5 Oscar nominations and deservedly so: Best International Feature Film, Best Sound, Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Directing and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The most extraordinary thing about ‘The Zone of Interest’ is that you never once go inside the camp but (instead) you constantly see it and, even more harrowingly, constantly hear it – the sound design and mixing in this film is perhaps the most important thing about it, you do need to listen very carefully as the sounds never leave you or the characters in the house. The film deliberately makes the residents listen to what is happening. The entire thing plays out through this extraordinarily well executed and terrifyingly clever juxtaposition. The family are going about their business and talking about completely normal day to day activities (plants and gardening etc) whilst, directly over their very own wall, one of the worst atrocities in human history is being committed- and that is the whole point of the film. It is the ultimate example of cognitive dissonance.

There is one moment where the mother of the house and her mother are walking around their ‘beautiful’ garden talking about how pretty it looks. Her mother looks curiously at the wall, asks a question about the camp which the daughter very quickly answers, but deliberately then resumes their pointless discussion. They all, on purpose, try and avoid what is happening which makes them even more sadistic. They are all acting totally normally which is truly disturbing. I think my favourite shot of the entire film, and there is a plethora to choose from, is an angle looking up at Hoss as he appears to be on a horse, staring out at something the audience cannot see and the shot only focuses on him. Yet is it made clear from the appalling sounds, that he is staring out at the prisoners as they are being tortured, beaten and forced to work. He is looking at what he has created.

As this moment played out, my body suddenly felt ice cold as you are made (and forced) to hear everything. The families’ sheer lack of (purposeful) awareness or care about what is going on is one of the many things about it that will stick with you. It is shocking just HOW close they actually are in proximity, and this is something that struck me by surprise – they are themselves essentially living there too which is the central irony. The film was, in fact, executed how I thought it would be. Characters stand around listening to the horrors whilst they are luxuriously relaxing in their garden and playing in the pool. It’s even worse at night when it’s all sounds from the camp that they and you can hear. There is this central idea at the forefront of beauty vs horror which is what I keep alluding to: the greenery and tranquility of the garden compared to the absolutely unspeakable nature of the camp. The same goes for when the camera stares at stunning roses and flowers whilst you hear screams in the background.

On a visual level, each frame is a staggering achievement, cinematographer Lukasz Zal has produced something mesmerising here. We are only given glimpses into Auschwitz, it constantly lurks and lingers in the background and the fiery colours is exudes at night are only reflected in windows as people try and sleep – the film deliberately never wants this place to leave the heads of the family, it always forces them to listen in as punishment. The same can be said for the audience. Constantly hearing it but never fully going in works so much better. It’s odd and peculiar score consists of bellowing rumbles that only add to it’s hallucinogenic experience. In the end, we have yet another film that I am trying to describe yet has proven to be challenging. A film that is so simple yet in its execution, yet so astounding.

In cinemas now.

Overall Rating: 10/10- Perfect

Target Audience: 12+

Content Warning: holocaust theme, disturbing scenes, racism, moderate sex references

Recommendation: Yes