The Movie Waffler New to Prime Video - THE ZONE OF INTEREST | The Movie Waffler

New to Prime Video - THE ZONE OF INTEREST

New to Prime Video - THE ZONE OF INTEREST
An SS officer lives with his family on a site next to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Jonathan Glazer

Starring: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Daniel Holzberg, Ralph Herforth, Sascha Maaz

The Zone of Interest poster

Every few years a new acclaimed Holocaust drama arrives and we roll our eyes. "Do we really need another one of these?" we ask. "Can't Jews just let it go already?" But then we watch said films and realise that most new entries into the cinematic chronicles of the Holocaust offer something new. Schindler's List, Son of Saul, The Pianist and Jonathan Glazer's in name only adaptation of Martin Amis's novel The Zone of Interest could never be confused for one another. Even the Holocaust films that don't offer anything new serve to reinforce its horrors, to remind us exactly why Jews can't let it go, and why they never should.

In recent years the label "Nazi" has lost much of its impact. It's become a term that's lazily wielded to describe someone whose politics we don't like, regardless of which side of the political fence we're on. Invoking Hitler has become the last refuge of the feeble-minded, a comparison applied to everyone from Donald Trump to Dr. Fauci. It doesn't help that Hollywood has spent decades portraying Nazis as cartoon villains. Most of us alive now have no actual memory of the Nazis. For most of us the Nazis are simply the bad guys of the Indiana Jones franchise. Even the best films about the Holocaust tend to portray Nazis as one-dimensional monsters. Perhaps that's all they deserve, but in doing so it lets the viewer off the hook. Much like how Hollywood movies like to portray racists as straw-chewing redneck stereotypes, portraying Nazis as inhuman prevents us from realising how much we might actually have in common with them.

The Zone of Interest review

Glazer's film is unique in that it's a Holocaust film in which Jews are never seen, despite it taking place at Auschwitz. Instead we spend time in the presence of real life SS Officer Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), who lives on a plot right next to the infamous camp with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their young children. Remove our knowledge of what his job as commandant of Auschwitz actually entails and Rudolf seems like a pretty decent guy. He loves his family, is kind to animals, and gets annoyed when he sees a damaged flower bed. He could be the dad from a 1970s sitcom. He has no animosity towards Jews, in the same way a gardener has no animosity towards the weeds they hack down so they can plant geraniums. He would have to see them as human to feel anything towards them. When Rudolf discusses a proposed new way of making gas chambers run more efficiently with an industrialist, they might as well be hashing out a plan to instal more economical central heating. Mass extermination is simply a business, and in 1943 Poland, business is booming.

Glazer dares to take a non-judgemental approach to Rudolf. There's nobody to tell him he's wrong, because of course there wouldn't have been. The only moral dilemma he faces is whether to leave his family to take up a job promotion in a new city. Rudolf hopes that if he impresses his superiors he'll be allowed to return to Auschwitz. Impressing his superiors requires finding the most efficient way to rid Hungary of its 700,000 Jews.

The Zone of Interest review

Rudolf's indifference towards Jews is contrasted by Hedwig, who seems to have a genuine hatred of anyone who isn't German or Christian. She admires herself in the mirror wearing a fur coat pilfered from a Jewish woman, her smug grin betraying a sense of joy at the elevated status she's achieved at someone else's expense. When her husband is away she treats her Polish servants with disdain, even threatening to have one killed for serving an unsatisfying breakfast. When her mother visits she wonders if the Jewish woman who employed her as a cleaner is on the "other side of the wall."

It seems like an odd thing to say about a Holocaust drama, but I don't think I've ever seen a movie that seems as heavily influenced by video games as The Zone of Interest. Glazer rigged up various cameras around the reconstruction of the Höss home, allowing his actors to move around without the encumberance of crew members. The effect, which sees the screen refresh every time a character enters a new room, is reminiscent of the aesthetics of video games from the '80s and '90s. I was so reminded of the Spy vs Spy game that I kept waiting for someone to electrocute themselves on a wired door knob. The visual style is also eerily reminiscent of the early '90s game Escape from Colditz, not just in its setting but in how Glazer adopts night vision for external night scenes in the exact same manner as that game. Comparing a movie to watching someone else play a video game is generally a highly negative critique, but in this case it adds to the maddening sense of helplessness as we watch history unfold, its controls in someone else's hands.

The Zone of Interest review

Those night vision scenes involve a subplot that sees a young Polish girl hide apples for the Jewish prisoners to find the next morning on their work detail. It's a beacon of hope that's cruelly extinguished when her good intentions later lead to fatal consequences. I'm not sure what Glazer's intentions are with this subplot, but it comes off as a critique of liberals, who so often would prefer to make an awful situation a little more palatable rather than doing something radical to end it. And yet this little girl is simply doing her best, which is more than most of us can claim. We all like to think we wouldn't have fallen in line with the party had we lived in Nazi Germany, but it's hard to find much evidence in our world to support this thesis. For those of us in the West, much of the rest of the world is our Auschwitz. Some of us might leave out apples, but most of us try to shut out the screams and get on with our lives.

The Zone of Interest is on Prime Video UK now.

2024 movie reviews