In 24 years director Jonathan Glazer has made only four features film. It’s a Kubrick level of output but each of those films have been well worth waiting for and his latest The Zone of Interest is no different in that respect. Based on the late Martin Amis novel the film follows Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz as he goes about his business of running the notorious concentration camp as a business keen to improve its efficiency and taking meetings about installing new, more effective furnaces. And all presented in a run of the mill manner. It’s the banality of evil that is on view here. All of this is coolly observed by Glazer’s often static shots of Hoss’s house where he lives with his family next door to the camp itself. With it’s well kept garden and vegetable patch the house is a stark contrast to what is on other side of the high wall that blocks any clear view of the camp
The atrocities and horror of Auschwitz has been well documented and here there’s a deliberate decision to keep it out of sight and as is so often the case the horror is often amplified by not seeing what you know is going on. To that end it’s the background noise that’s a constant reminder of what is happening almost becoming white noise and what can be heard is the screams, shouting and occasional gunshot. What you can hear is as important as what you can see.
There’s little narrative in the film beyond the workaholic Hoss being reassigned to another camp much to the annoyance of his wife happily ensconced in the large house with her children and servants wholly indifferent to what is being perpetrated on the other side of the wall. And throughout, though the extermination of Jews is never seen, there are simple reminders to make an audience recoil – Hoss’s wife trying on a prisoners luxury fur coat for herself, a pile of prisoners own clothing dumped on a table for the house servants to have, the eldest boy playing with several teeth of the dead, Hoss’s mother in law casually chatting about a Jew she used to clean for now in the camp and Hoss’ youngest son overhearing a prisoner being punished. Again it is the banality of evil all taken in the stride of people indifferent to the fate of others as the family go on family picnic days out swimming, fishing and playing in the lush surrounding countryside. The parallel to what is going on in the world today is obvious.
There are of course innumerable films about the Holocaust from the Oscar winning Schindler’s List and Son of Saul to the recent One Life. Like Kubrick there’s a symmetry to many of his static shots making the audience passive onlookers to the mundane day to day work of Hoss and the hum drum bureaucracy of genocide with only a rare moment of possible humanity from Hoss retching on a stairwell after helming a large meeting about upping the extermination rate. Technically this is a supremely accomplished film as are all of Glazer’s and The Zone of Interest is no less horrifying a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.
related feature ‘Son of Saul’ reviewed
Here’s The Zone of Interest trailer…..