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Film Review: The Zone of Interest (2023)

Updated: Feb 26

Kelaru & Fulton rating: ★★★★★

Available in cinemas | Runtime: 1hrs 45mins


 

The last encounter I had with Jonathan Glazer's direction was in 2013, through

the chilling narrative of Under the Skin. This film, led by Scarlett Johansson, showcased her as an ethereal entity embarking on a profound journey of self-discovery, creating an experience that was as unsettling as it was captivating.


This time around, Glazer delves into the domestic sphere of the Hoss family, headed by the sinister Commandant Rudolf Hoss (played by Christian Friedel), who orchestrated the operations at Auschwitz with chilling precision. Set against the backdrop of Hoss’s 'career peak', the narrative delves into the harrowing reality of the Holocaust by juxtaposing the mundane with the macabre through the lens of the Hoss family.



Alongside Friedel, Sandra Huller (also Oscar-nominated for Anatomy of a Fall) delivers a compelling performance as Hedwig, the Commandant's wife, both residing in an unsettling proximity to the horrors of Auschwitz.


Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, Glazer's film is a masterclass in storytelling and sound design, the latter earning it a well-deserved nomination. The omnipresent industrial noise, gunshots, ailing and screaming coming from over the wall where the historic atrocities are happening is always present and always accompany the daily livelihood of the Hoss family.



What makes the film poetic is that there is little need for an actual conflict in the story, the contrast is hard enough to digest. Yes, The Hoss'es are having their usual family quarrels about going away on holidays, the stress of ‘work’ and education for the children, but these familiarities are intertwined with the daily massacre that is happening only a few feet away, over the wall.


The symbolisms in the film are also clear: the family home and grounds are as heavenly as they can possibly be, the children are making the most of their childhood in the gardens and the mother, Hedwig is convinced that they have achieved happiness here, which she fights for when threatened. On the other side of the wall, it is pure hell. What we see and hear is violence and pain, but without actually looking over the wall. As audience, we are left with our own knowledge and imagination to ‘fill in the blanks’ of what is happening, once we see the plumes of smoke coming out of the gas chambers, the gunshots, the wailing of a person dying and the rumble of the industrial sized funnels that consistently burn bodies.


I found this film as impactful as The Schindler’s List in its way of representing this terrible time of human history from the point of view of a family that is trying to make a life in an environment where oppression and murder is ever present. We will have to wait and see if this film will stand the test of time in the same way as Spielberg’s masterpiece, but at the moment, it does contain the ingredients of a classic.


Through the lens of the Hoss family, Glazer masterfully weaves a narrative that is as chilling as it is poetic, challenging the audience to confront the harrowing realities of Auschwitz without the need for overt conflict. The film's strength lies not only in its compelling performances and masterclass in sound design but also in its ability to evoke a deep, introspective reflection on the human condition and the ease with which ordinary life can coexist with unspeakable evil.



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