Returning from a ten year hiatus, director Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin, Sexy Beast) creates an impeccably stunning and original film in the form of The Zone of Interest. Taking place in 1943, lead Nazi commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) resides with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their five children in a stunningly sprawling house, positioned next door to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Based on a true story, the family pridefully tends to their garden while the sounds of gunshots, wails, and barking dogs fill the background of their day-to-day life. Going into the film with only an understanding of an eerie trailer and a PG-13 rating, Glazer’s film is an exercise in restraint yet filled with unimaginable horrors.
Shot in observational widescreen, The Zone of Interest overflows with contrasts of the Höss family carrying out their daily tasks, eating decadent food prepared by their servants and hosting parties by their pool with the sounds of terror, violence, and death, every bit of it heard but not seen. Rudolf and Hedwig show no remorse or unease as to what’s happening next door, instead they continue carrying out their familial chores and are more concerned with retaining their lives in excess and comfort.
The only characters that seem to show any form of compassion towards the reality of their existence are the ones that cannot speak – their infant child Annegret and their dog (played by Hüller’s dog in real life). Never once is Annegret consoled by those around her, constantly crying and screaming in the confines of the house despite being surrounded by family. Coupled with their family pet eager to receive affection in any shape or form, she is instead shut out from bedrooms and practically seen as invisible in the eyes of the adults and children. The only character that gives us an outsider's perspective into the terrors of their environment is from Linna Hensel (Imogen Kogge), Hedwig’s mother who comes to visit. Initially she expresses admiration for the home they’ve built, yet once she’s subjected to the gunfire and screams at night, her sanity is challenged and leads her to abruptly leave their dwellings without so much as a goodbye.
Paired with an incredibly effective score, Glazer’s film is unrelenting with metallic murmurs of grating noise, occasionally verging to the point of drowning out the conversations taking place in the Höss household. The vividness of the garden’s flowers morph into a stained blood red soaked screen, signaling the atrocities that lay deep beyond the surface level of the residence’s beauty. The Zone of Interest is not only a tale of the numbing effect history’s acts of monstrosity had on those that committed them, but also a reminder to stay conscious of the complicity that all too often runs rampant in our current society.
You can purchase tickets to watch The Zone of Interest at Austin Film Society, screening today throughout Thursday, February 1st.