The Zone of Interest movie review: A chilling study of human complicity | Hollywood - Hindustan Times

The Zone of Interest movie review: Jonathan Glazer's chilling study of human complicity is an immediate masterpiece

Mar 02, 2024 01:12 PM IST

The Zone of Interest review: It first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year, where it won the Grand Prix.

There's simply no other film in recent memory quite like Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest. Seldom does one come across a film as bone-chillingly immediate as this one; it refuses to leave the mind and spirit. This is a film about the Holocaust, but one that stays away from depicting the genocidal regime in all its brutality. But this is also a film that is very much about human complicity, about affinity for survival in a deeply unfair and brutal world. It is a film that refuses to be slotted within the paradigm of one chapter of history. Glazer confronts and takes aim at the immediate present. (Also read: Anatomy of a Fall movie review: Sandra Hüller is a force of nature in this Oscar-nominated, compelling courtroom drama)

The Zone of Interest is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.
The Zone of Interest is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture.

The premise

Loosely based on Martin Amis' titular novel, Glazer's fourth feature revolves around a beautiful house surrounded by tall walls. On the other side of these walls are the concentration camps. Glazer makes the extraordinary formal choice to never visit what happens inside the camps, as we are made to contextualize it through the smoke that emits out of the chimney and covers the sky, or the unmistakable sound of gunshots, and women crying for their lives.

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On this side, it is the house inhabited by the Höss family. Rudolf (Christian Friedel) is the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who lives with wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller, impeccable here) and his five children. There are some selected local girls who silently do their work as house help. Early on, when a new package full of used clothes arrives at the Höss house, the meaning is not immediately stated. It is only untill Hedwig tries on a fur coat in her room in front of the mirror and then gives it for lining, do we realize the implications. This is a house not based in obliviousness, but in denial. The lack of dramatic tension in this household sickens, shot remotely through corridors and walls, by cinematographer Lukasz Zal capture their day-to-day chores with unobtrusive introspection.

Why it works

It is this exacting piece of detachment that makes the blood run cold in The Zone of Interest. The embedded horror stems thoroughly from Mica Levi's unnerving score- as if echoing directly from hell, jolting the steadfast persistence of the narrative. One particularly upsetting scene appears when the camera chooses to focus on the bright flowers in Hedwig's garden that have grown from ashes. The screen freezes and begins to turn completely red.

Yet, there's a spark that quietly burns in the midst of the darkness that embodies the disquieting aesthetic of The Zone of Interest. It occurs when the perspective shifts from the Höss family and rests on an unidentified little girl who leaves apples in the dirt moulds. These scenes occur twice, captured entirely through thermal cameras, resembling film negatives. It is an image that burns itself into the memory. The implication of her secret arrives like a shot at the heart. Humanity exists, even in the faintest and quietest of protests.

Final thoughts

The Zone of Interest is as much about the Holocaust as it is about human complicity. It is as much about war as it is about one's attitude towards it. Glazer's masterful film observes an idyllic family as they live merrily, separated just a few meters away from unspeakable atrocity. They know what's happening but choose to ignore. Then and now, history repeats in circles. The quotidian life still goes on. Truth exists, in all its brutality, even as the powerful try to mend a layer of normalcy. We might never be able to escape its consequences.

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