Monday, September 04, 2023

The Zone of Interest (in the presence of Jonathan Glazer)

Jonathan Glazer: The Zone of Interest (US/GB/PL 2023). The opening sequence with the family of Rudolf Höss bathing in Auschwitz.

Made possible by a donation from Elizabeth Redleaf.
Galaxy, Telluride Film Festival (TFF), 4 Sep 2023.
In the presence of Jonathan Glazer, Christian Friedel and a producer [tbc].

Larry Gross (TFF 2023): " Less is more: many modern artists, from van der Rohe to Beckett, have made this principle the core of their creations. But writer-director Jonathan Glazer, in audacious fashion, takes the concept to a disturbing new place: the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Rather than depicting any of the now-familiar, still incomprehensible horrors, Glazer offers us only ordinary life, following a camp commandant and hard-working bureaucrat Rudolf Hoss (Christian Friedel) and his brisk, cheerful wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), a devoted homemaker and mom, as they engage in their everyday tasks. THE ZONE OF INTEREST transforms their denial and euphemism into an investigation: does evil lurk within all of us? Could you or I serve as accomplice to genocide? Cinematographer Łukasz Żal, composer Mica Levi and sound designer Johnnie Burn implement the obsessive clarity of Glazer’s vision, as he rigorously exposes the horrifying, increasingly resonant truth of the Holocaust: yes, it could happen again. " –LG (U.S.-U.K.-Poland, 2023, 105 m) In person: Jonathan Glazer

Festival premiere: 19 May 2023 Cannes Film Festival.
American festival premiere: 1 Sep 2023 Telluride Film Festival.

Language: German.
Location: Poland.
In collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

AA: Freely inspired by a novel by Martin Amis (1949-2023), Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest is a study in the "banality of evil". The subject of the concentration camp leader enjoying a happy family life while millions are murdered next door is familiar. In the cinema, it has never been studied with such focus and force as here.

There was a long interval between the Holocaust and the first major wave of films about it - because the subject transcends the limits of understanding. The best films have refrained from showing any horror action. Claude Lanzmann's Shoah is the best example. Last year, Sergei Loznitsa achieved a similar power impact with The Kiev Trial. We are there, and will never forget.

Jonathan Glazer has also chosen the strategy of not showing anything. Yet the Holocaust is a 24 hour reality in the film and the Höss family. There is the rumbling background sound, with cries of agony and pain and gunshots. At night, the sky turns red from the flames from the furnaces. The air is full of smoke. Bones are found in the river. Loot from the victims is greedily shared, including gold teeth.

The grandmother of the family pays a brief visit but disappears without saying goodbye. The daughter of the family cannot sleep at night, watching silently the flames on the sky. The mother and the males are more hard-boiled, but Rudolf Höss, who is promoted to Chief Commandant during the movie, in charge of the final acceleration of the Final Solution, starting in Hungary, suffers from increasing stomach trouble.

Worrying about trifling personal matters while people are burning is a disturbing observation of the Third Reich. It is also an image relevant to the destiny of life on Earth in general and the way we live now.

Excellent work from the cast and the crew in all departments. The Zone of Interest has been shot in colour with black and white fairy-tale sequences in negative. 

There is a subtly bleached digital look. It is like everything is seen through the thin smoke emerging from the furnaces 24 hours a day.

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