Film review: The Zone of Interest: ‘Hopefully it will win Oscars’

Capturing the ordinariness of atrocity


Christian Friedel in The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest

Five stars

It is the restraint that stands out in Jonathan Glazer’s multi-Oscar nominated Holocaust film. Death is all around yet always just beyond the sight of this Jewish director’s cameras as they focus on the domestic life of Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Höss and his wife Hedwig.

The gardens are festooned with flowering dahlias and other blooms while inside Hedwig entertains and gossips with visitors. Occasionally packages are delivered by shadowy inmates with what appear to be silky night slips or perhaps children’s clothes which Hedwig offers her staff as a perk. She keeps the fur coat to herself.

Hoss meanwhile reads to his children in the bedroom or hosts a meeting in his living room with visiting architects and designer’s who pitch their idea for yet more efficient crematorium. The Hoss boys play in the garden, the older brother locking the younger one in the green house and pretending it is a gas chamber.

Filmed at Auschwitz in a house near the Höss homestead, these domestic comings and goings are filmed with an objective neutrality that conveys not so much Arendt’s banality of evil but rather the ordinariness of atrocity.

The roofs of Auschwitz’s barracks can be seen just beyond the high garden walls, as can the belching chimneys whose ash in one scene is scattered over the Hoss flowerbeds.

The film is based on Martin Amis’s novel of the same name but Glazer diverts his gaze from its story and instead hones in on the context, burrowing into dramatically inert domesticity.

This is a hard yet mesmerising watch and listen. The ambient sound of mass murder - a sort of industrial rumble punctuated by human cries, gun shots and the barking of dogs - is always present. Yet it is never dominant. Even colour has a reserved muted quality.

The bravery of this formerly experimental film is matched by the German cast led by Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller. How difficult it must have been for these Germans to tread the soil of Auschwitz while portraying those who loved their life there.

Hopefully The Zone of Interest will go in to win some the Oscar categories for which it is has been nominated, including Best Picture and Best Director. It will increase the chance that it will be watched by those who compare today’s wars and atrocities to what happened at Auschwitz and the other camps, and that they will at last realise that nothing compares to the Holocaust.

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