Content Warning: Genocide
Adapted from a Martin Amis novel, Jonathon Glazer’s The Zone of Interest follows the inner lives of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolph Höss and his wife Hedwig, focusing its attention on family strife and workplace politics rather than the unspeakable horrors happening on the opposite side of the camp’s walls. Constantly breaking the 180-degree rule, diverting into avant-garde infrared sequences and displaying long, would-be boring depictions of domestic life, the film sets out to put off its own audience, confronting both the ability of cinema to narrativize evil and the startling comfort of an audience in engaging with it. Nearly every scene is set against a vomit-inducing soundscape that combines the machinery of death with the human reactions that it inspires (and the subsequent gunfire and dog barks part and parcel to the repression). It’s one of last years’ most difficult films but also one of its most essential, a treatise on the ease with which horror is tuned out just as its modern analogue is more visible than ever.
The obvious comparator text for The Zone of Interest is Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, possibly the definitive visual document of the Holocaust and a film most notable for its refusal to show a second of archival footage. Glazer, who isn’t painting with a documentary canvas, must represent Auschwitz as an operating camp, but he too restrains his camera from ever actually depicting images either of genocide or those doomed to it.