The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest
The Zone of Interest
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The Zone of Interest still haunts me even after seven months. The first time I saw Jonathan Glazer’s experimental Holocaust film in May, I could not tell what was so shocking about it. There is much to be learnt from the number of movies that have been produced about this dark period such as “Night and Fog”, “Schindler’s List,” “The Pianist,” and most recently, “Occupied City”. Yet it would be a mistake to consider Glazer’s version of Martin Amis novel underpinning his intention for readers just to believe what they see. One cannot watch this work without getting feeling chilled out by its purity of style that is almost perfect. It is how the movie sanitizes things; making it different from other films touching on the Holocaust. 

It might be a formal exercise, you might say about Glazer’s film, of course. Here, he does not only challenge himself with working purely with atmosphere but also takes a risk by presenting this story through eyes of German characters. Christian Friedel plays Rudolf Höss – commandant at Auschwitz concentration camp. When he first appears on screen he is sitting with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and children relaxing by the riverside in some green field surrounded with tall mountains all around them. Soon we are introduced to their dream house which is tall concrete structure on spacious grounds enclosed by walls that appear taller than the home itself. On one side of these walls lies the camp itself. We never really go into the camp except for one shot—a low angle view of Rudolf framed within black billowing smoke at the back—whereas we are invited through sound rather than vision alone, to imagine ourselves there instead, where we will hear screaming voices calling us back over and over again…That dichotomy has been well outlined by Glazer between two films running side-by-side in The Zone Of Interest (one seen through the eyes and the other heard by ears). It is a familiar tug at both ends. 

The banality of evil has also been much discussed. The Höss family live next door to ongoing genocide yet never comment on the horrific screams or the smell of death nearby. Thus, there is an expected coldness which seeps into the film’s lack of sentimentality. They raise their children under a pretense of normalcy—Rudolf tells them late-night bedtime stories, takes them horseback riding, and participates in other pastoral pursuits. Because they are emotionally opaque, something that often happens when you are not quite sure if or what you feel about something, Friedel and Hüller have to provide a reference point: How do you keep someone who is definitely not human showing that he still possesses some human element? By neither giving anything away nor betraying this exterior façade with excessive emotion, Rudolf’s icy stance remains unaltered; if anything it might even become colder as everything else heats up around him in comparison. However, Hüller is less distinctively clear about this sort of thing as she goes on being dangerous like rattlesnake with its sharp-edged tail. If it were not for their performances then Glazer’s framing could easily have gone wrong.

Nevertheless, this is not a new feeling for Mr. Glazer, “Birth” which received much criticism for its closing and the on-screen relationship between Nicole Kidman and Cameron Bright. “Under the Skin,” even as it was more successful critically, managed to skirt on feminism’s razor’s edge. All of this led to these films along with his debut “Sexy Beast” where Glazer took his audio-visual storytelling towards leaner compositions of angular tensions and dynamic sense of sounds that could unnerve the viewers. With cinematographer Lukasz Zal in The Zone of Interest, he advances those two desires by linking domestic spaces repeatedly to exterior sound: A train rumbles past bringing additional Jews; a package arrives at the house containing stockings that had belonged to presumed victims in the previous train. On Rudolf’s side celebration (birthdays and social gatherings) is life while death happens elsewhere (“The Zone …”). 

The near-correlation speaks to how Rudolf and his family are deeply intertwined with destruction as well as its consequences in some cases. They profited from an entire people’s deaths in unspeakable ways: In one scene, one of Rudolf’s sons has a flashlight in bed. Nevertheless, he isn’t searching through comics under cover of darkness; his hands are rummaging through teeth gold collection instead. Hedwig receives a fur coat in another scene She tries on the fine pelt twisting her body this way and that to see herself from every angle possible using the mirror.” In one of its pockets she finds lipstick belonging to previous owner and tries it out again” But when Hedwig’s mom arrives their comfortable closeness is thrown into sharp relief because she doesn’t seem quite so happy anymore, now does she? When Hedwig’s mother first sees their “scenic” home she is pleased saying “You really have landed on your feet my child.” However when the sounds emanating from outside and the accompanying smells reach Hedwig’s mother, she reacts in a way that shocks Hedwig. 

The Höss’ persistent tidying up looms large in a film premised on dissonance for instance. There is always a Jewish prisoner to clean Rudolf’s boots when he removes them. Whenever soot from the camp touches the river; it results in children, who are Rudolf’s kids being scalded in very hot water. When having affairs with other women, Rudolf cleans his private parts at a slop sink before returning to sleep with his wife. Weeds are pulled and human ashes used to replenish. The entire legacy of misdeeds by the Höss family functions within this cycle of obfuscation. The composer Mica Levi’s foreboding score which can be guttural and dirty throughout infrared scenes (wherein a girl picks up food from out of mud) is participating in this dichotomy between polishing and revealing.The use of white–clean sheets, smooth suits, sterile office walls – depends on this blurring. Even their language is an attempt to bury the truth as they speak of death like robot terms (g) or technicalities (.e). If you’re always talking about your crimes in circles isn’t easier to perform them moving forward?

It was about the way history records tragedy as well as a particular moment in time that Glazer’s film deals. Consider, for instance, what happens when Rudolf is transferred to Oranienburg from Auschwitz; Hedwig would rather remain at her dream house than in the world she has created for herself. In contrast, Rudolf talks with his wife on the phone regarding murder without any disguise for the first time. Although her reaction is grim and his words hardly register, she disturbingly replies “it’s in the middle of night and I need to be in bed.” Upon hearing this he hangs up on her and leaves his office walking down some stairs. As he walks downstairs, he vomits several times until he reaches a hallway which barely has any light. What makes Paul Watts cut to present-day Auschwitz? It’s being cleaned – swept, mopped and vacuumed – so that visitors will see artifacts (e.g., shoes and luggage) with no owners yet.

Here there is a juxtaposition between two effects of sanitization. Over most parts of the movie we are shown how sanitizing facts can lead to erasure. However, through this movie Glazer offers an illustration on how it may also be used for preservation purposes. This is because history is remembered this way and current events are noted through propaganda, photography , video games ,internet among others thus resulting into investigative interplay between true reality verses an edited one . For example,”The Zone of Interest” arrives now as major powers rewrite their narratives to absolve themselves of guilt hence making glazer’s images even more horrifying…Glazer shows us how those photographs become cinema itself—moving pictures that have been frozen into eternity as they capture life before it becomes death.

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