Tuesday 19 March 2024

The Zone of Interest (2023)

The Zone of Interest is a snapshot of the life and crimes during World War II of 
Rudolf Höss, who was in charge of the Auschwitz concentration camp within German-occupied Poland. He commanded the camp for the longest time and we join his reign during 1943 when Hitler and his seniors had considered him to be hugely successful in furthering the aims of the war by his actions there against the Jewish people.

The film focuses mostly, however, on Höss the family man, married to Hedwig, living with their 5 children just outside the walls of the camp. So well considered was he that the family wanted for nothing and lived a life of plenty, in a house specially built for them. The film is presented in near-documentary style with fly-on-the-wall cameras set around the house and gardens as we observe the apparently ordinary lifestyle of the family through daily routines.

We never go inside the camp, but are often subjected to the sounds of what's going on beyond the family's walls as Höss disappears into work each day to carry out his brutal activities slaughtering thousands of people. It is estimated that he was ultimately responsible for around 3 million deaths in the torture chambers - at then end of the film, we get to see some footage of Höss as he was captured, tried and hanged in 1947 and some facts about his horrific behaviour. Hedwig claimed that she knew nothing of the dreadful activities of her husband and was allowed to live.

The house was full of people serving the family, from the local Polish people and others from inside the camp. We are witness to the intolerant ways in which the various family members treat them when things go wrong here and there, on a domestic level. Hedwig loves her house, her family and only wants to make a perfect life for them. So much so that when Höss is promoted, with duties away from home, she insists on the family staying there and awaiting his return.

We mostly see Höss in his domestic situation, not always getting his own way as he clearly does at work, but a somewhat timid, at times, family man who, like his wife, will do anything to ensure that his family are catered for and who always come first. But can she really have had no idea about what goes on behind the walls, led by her husband? The constant smell of burning, smoke rising, sounds of abuse and torture, screaming and misery are clear for her to hear, though amongst that we observe her going about her privileged life, apparently ignoring them. Perhaps not hearing, though willing to benefit from the treasures confiscated from wealthy Jewish people in the camp.

This adaptation of Martin Amis' book is not an easy watch, in fact it's hugely disturbing and chilling, though its approached from a very different angle by director Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) than most of what has gone before depicting WWII - and one which will linger in the memory for longer. One reason for that is the chilling performances of the two leads, Christian Friedel (13 Minutes) and Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall) as Rudolf and Hedwig Höss. They both grasp the roles with convincing dedication, making this somewhat clinical style of adaptation and filming come to life. Watch it also for the use of the aforementioned sound, but also silence used in suspense as the audience wonders what horrors will be heard next.

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