In case you didn’t know, the term for the film’s title came from the area surrounding Auschwitz. The Germans labeled the 15 square miles that bordered the concentration camp the Zone of Interest. It’s the perimeter or boundary between the security monitoring setup and the external network.
The director and screenwriter for this movie, Jonathan Glazer, started shooting onsite in the summer of 2021 and finished in January 2022. It was shot in Germany and Poland. Shooting there would have been a difficult and depressing task, but Glazer didn’t spend time showing you victims, so the cast and crew were safe from having to recall what they already knew happened there. Glazer didn’t design the film to have his audience see the wrongdoings of his main characters, the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), and his wife, Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller), but rather acknowledge how the Jewish people were being tortured and killed through your ears and very few visuals.
Glazer also wanted you to see that the Höss’ were just people with desires and goals like anyone else. They and their children lived on the other side of the wall from Auschwitz in a beautiful home with a pool and an extensive garden. Hedwig loved showing it off, especially when her mother came to visit. When friends were over, they would speak of the clothing and jewelry they procured from the Jews, a diamond even being found in toothpaste. Time to start ordering more toothpaste just in case! She laughs. Real funny. Wearing the clothing of the victims, especially clothing of people they once considered friends, will hit you hard about the face, leaving your mouth agape.
Anyway, how they couldn’t see what they were doing was wrong is anyone’s guess, and why the film feels so extreme. Disagreements about anything can lead one to hate and believe the childish trope, “I’m right and you’re wrong!” to be used as justification for any action. In “The Zone of Interest,” the evil persona of evil is given a regular face which is not usually shown in a holocaust film. Hedwig is the most significant proof of this.
Hedwig is happy and has everything she could ever want; the family is, too. When Rudolf is about to be transferred closer to Berlin, she asks that he go alone instead of uprooting them all when the children are doing so well. Though it’s literally on the other side of Auschwitz, it’s their dream home.
Plumes of ash would fill the sky and their lungs, but it was just another day in their lives. What was going on “over there” had nothing to do with Hedwig. She laughed at the idea of being called Queen of Auschwitz. Sure, there was a garden wall and trees built to obstruct the view of crematories, but she just wanted to keep her family content as she and Rudolf often spoke of doing. He made sure that the lilac bushes around and the ivy growing on the wall were never to be removed. So, he had to make sure she could stay there with their normal kids (that play with army men and dress as Nazi soldiers).
This isn’t easy to comprehend.
Interestingly enough, the novelist this film gets its initial documentation from Martin Amis, passed away at his home in Florida on May 19th of this year of esophageal cancer. Apparently, he was a smoker most of his life. At the 2023 Canne Film Festival, the film was chosen for the prestigious Palme d’Or award. The festival premiered on 19 May also. Awful timing. He was from London and made it to seventy-three years old, but he didn’t live long enough to see the source of this particular writing make such a big splash on the big screen, not his first work writing to be used in a film, by the way.
You’ll notice that he used light in an interesting way. Basically, to show the opposite of what was happening during the day. A little girl hides apples for the starving workers in the fields and elsewhere. A long moment on screen of just the color red is utilized for a reason. I’m sure you know what that is.
Gunshots are a constant. Yelling and screams are always heard in the background like it were the score.
The film is unique in that it leaves you to ponder how these people could commit such horrible atrocities on millions of Jews and not feel for a soul. However, the biggest issue is that it moves very slowly and can be rather humdrum in its approach to every subject.
The Zone of Interest
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Written by: Martin Amis, Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller
Rated: PG-13 (Smoking|Thematic Material|Some Suggestive Material)
Run Time: 1h 46m
Genres: History, Drama, War
Distributed by: A24