Jonathan Glazers’ profound understanding of the subject is what separates all the Nazi-related films from this one. All the Holocaust-related films tend to chronicle a minor conflict. Contorted faces of Nazi leaders, sadistic actions, and Nazis have often been propagated as an end-all-be-all Nazi. The fantasy that Nazi officials had nothing in their lives but just extermination in their minds has been dethroned in this film. “The Zone of Interest” is brutal. If there is a perfect word to describe this film, it must be “detached.” Loosely based on the book of the same name,

Glazer’s film doesn’t follow a conventional narrative style. There is a conflict, but that is not something significant to change the direction of the film. According to reports, Glazer had spent almost two years researching the life of Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of the Auschwitz camp. The film revolves around Hedwig and Rudolf Hoss, showcasing their lives as a pure image of familial bliss. They live in the state house surrounding the camp. As the narrative progresses, this image breaks as Rudolph, a rising star in the party, is rewarded with a promotion for his stellar work at the camp. This promotion will take him away from Auschwitz.

As memory would serve, the entire film doesn’t have a single close-up. This careful alienation is deliberate. Glazer doesn’t want his audience to be drawn towards the politics of a family as everyone would be interested in doing. The more detached we are from the mundaneness, the more we are drawn towards what the film form suggests. The framing and soundscape provide the context of how this positioning of inactivity against the camp is so disconcerting to a viewer.

The lives of the Hosss are perfect. They are nothing but a normal, average couple with a family and a stable income. In this same averageness, there is a scene at the beginning of the film where Rudolph discusses with a few scientists how to create a better incinerator for the Jews. This is the bone-chilling mundaneness of the Nazi menace. “Burn, cool, unload, reload,” this is exactly how the incinerator is supposed to work.

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It’s also a clever commentary on how we as individuals live. The current Palestine-Israel confrontation is another such example. We are not bothered whether kids and hospitals are bombed. Countries in the UN will call for a vote to cease such operations. These operations will be carried out under the name of necessary retaliation. As human beings, we will always be on the wrong side of history. This film is a meta-induction of the audience in the participatory politics of hate and bigotry. We will sit back and pay no heed to all the atrocities happening around the world.

The visual metaphor in “The Zone of Interest” is not very well hidden, and I appreciate the director for it. He doesn’t hide behind carefully constructed poetic images to prove his point. The images are calculated, and the montages are well-defined for the public to follow how we are all part of this sham. We won’t raise our voices as long as it doesn’t affect us. A few kids dying a few hundred kilometers away doesn’t affect us.

The Zone of Interest (2023) ‘IFFI’ Movie Review - hof
Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel in The Zone of Interest (2023)

When Rudolph and his kids go out to fish and stand in the river, the river suddenly turns grey, and Hoss fishes out a single pelvis bone, which has stood in the heat of the incinerator. He brings the kids back in a hurry, and the mother washes them clean. The burden of history is so strong that the kids were not spared. But Glazer creates sequence after sequence, making the stomach of even the strongest individual churn.

Hedwig Hoss is known as the “Queen of Auschwitz.” The pride with which she says this is nothing short of the blind hate that the people had ingested with the literature of the Socialist Party. She is proud of her achievements. She is proud of her husband’s accomplishments; they have worked hard to get where they are. When he is promoted, she is absolutely against the idea of leaving. If you think about it, it is hard not to think about what you do on a regular basis. You can’t keep thinking about the amount of people you kill every day.

Glazer can’t resist bringing that montage sequence at the film’s end. Hoss descends the stairs and keeps puking. He suddenly comes to a halt and looks down a vast, dark corridor. The shot cuts away to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. It’s early morning, and the workers are all coming in. The camera tracks, and the thousands of shoes, glasses, and prisoner memorabilia in temperature-controlled rooms are all carefully stored.

The sequence cuts back to Hoss just looking down the corridor and then keeps walking down the stairs. This moment is crucial from the perspective of the filmmaker. Glazer carefully constructs the reality that the Germans were well aware of what they were doing. As Hoss peeks at the darkness, he knows what he has created. But he continues on the path that he has chosen. Hedwig doesn’t even bother to hide her ugliness, and there is no moment of introspection.

“The Zone of Interest” can be compared to the museum. We have stored the belongings of the prisoners and what they have gone through in many films. We have recreated many moments of torture through survivor accounts lest we forget what they have been through. But this film is a different kind of museum. The film brings forth the horror of ideology and blind faith. It carefully reconstructs the perfect pastoral beauty in Auschwitz against the concentration camp.

The camp is always in the background, and the repulsive  Nazi family in front. Films have always picturized how the Jews have been butchered, thereby always creating a sort of tragedy porn. But “The Zone of Interest” memorializes the basic life of a Nazi family unbothered by the horrors of the tragedy around them. This is a haunting image and an important one for the 21st Century. The more we head towards absolutism and extremism, the more this film will stay relevant and vital.

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The Zone of Interest (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
The Zone of Interest (2023) Movie Cast: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller
The Zone of Interest (2023) Movie Genre: History/Drama, Runtime: 1h 46m
Where to watch The Zone of Interest

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