January 4, 2024

VIFF 2023 | Evil Lurks Beyond 'The Zone of Interest'

"This is our living space."
Christian Friedel Sandra Hüller Jonathan Glazer | The Zone of Interest A24 | VIFF 2023
Vancouver International Film Festival
VIFF 2023—British auteur Jonathan Glazer directs his first film in seven years. Loosely inspired by the premise of the fictional WWII novel of the same name by English writer Martin Amis, The Zone of Interest explores the sheer banality of evil through his Poland-set domestic drama set just outside the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp during the height of Nazi Germany's extermination of European Jews.

Through long takes and wide shots of almost idyllic or everyday household circumstances, we follow Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller's German commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife, Hedwig, alongside their perfect-looking Aryan family. They live in a pastoral and pristine estate befitting of Höss's stature that shares an ominous wall with the notorious Nazi death camp. Their home's stark niceness constantly comes into contrast with the awful surroundings of constant terror and genocide, as vividly heard thanks to the film's stunning sound design.

There's a meticulously brooding tension throughout The Zone of Interest, constantly permeating the film's abstraction of the Holocaust. It simply shows us what life was like from the point-of-view of Nazi perpetrators as seen through their home and work lives. It's easy to fill in the horrific gaps of mass murder on an everyday basis.

Glazer chillingly crafts a spare but disturbing portrait of the darkest elements of humanity through a family's domestic dream scenario. How he powerfully dramatizes the real-life atrocities of war and complicity lurking in the background is a remarkable cinematic achievement. It's a deeply restrained portrait of true horror, told in shades of grey and mundane bureaucratic routine.

The Zone of Interest screened at the 2023 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Special Presentations series.

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