Cannes Zone of Interest review: Five stars for Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust ‘masterpiece’

by The Insights

Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) shows her mother around her garden in the sun. Three years ago it was just a field, but now it has manicured lawns, paved paths, a swimming pool, greenhouse and thriving flowerbeds. “It’s a garden paradise,” marvels his proud mother. But, of course, the family wouldn’t have their enviable home without the hard work of Hedwig’s husband, Rudolf (Christian Friedel). “He’s under pressure like you wouldn’t believe,” she said.

The quiet chatter of middle-class women could hardly be more ordinary, but it’s made giddy surreal and deeply horrifying by certain details they don’t seem to notice: the gray wall topped with barbed wire on one side of the garden; the barracks and belching chimney just beyond; and the constant background noise of industrial rumble, chugging steam trains, intermittent shouting and the occasional echoing gunfire. Slowly and steadily, without much sudden revelation, we learn that Rudolf is Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and that he, his wife and their young children are living a happy, healthy life, although a bit boring. while thousands of people are killed every day just a few meters away.

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Jonathan Glazer, the writer-director of Under the Skin, Birth and Sexy Beast, has made a Holocaust film like no other – a film that makes its point not by depicting the horrors endured in the camps, but by excluding them. A chilling treatise on the banality of evil, The Zone of Interest is credited with being based on a novel by Martin Amis, but Glazer strips down almost everything in the novel, plot included. The daily household affairs he leaves behind are so understated and undramatic that the film looks like a documentary on the wall, except it’s made up of beautiful, crisp tableaus. Höss is never shown inside the camp itself and the nature of his work is barely mentioned, even when he has meetings about quotas and payments with his colleagues. When Hedwig tries on a fur coat that was delivered home with a bundle of other clothes, and when one of the boys plays with gold teeth, no one discusses where the items came from.

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