Saturday, January 20, 2024

Jonathan Glazer's "The Zone of Interest" at SIFF Cinema: Jan 19 - Feb 15

After receiving a six-minute standing ovation at its premiere at Cannes, wherein the film won the Grand Prix, and garnering numerous five-star reviews, Jonathan Glazer's newest vision arrives at SIFF Cinema. Based on Martin Amis' novel of the same title, "The Zone Of Interest" is in a sense a chronicle of the family life of Rudolf Höss, the commandant at Auschwitz, and one of the engineers of Hitler's attempt to exterminate all Jews in Europe. The Höss family live in close proximity to the ongoing genocide and the workmanlike efficiency of the industrial machine which Rudolph oversees. The sounds of this machinery of mass extermination are ever-present, with only occasional intrusions of morbid clouds of smoke, and material from this industrial eradication factory washing downstream through idyllic rivers of the Polish countryside. As a product, there is a profound lack of sentimentality to the setting and the film's representation of its larger historical context. The film's two stars have spoken on the dichotomy of its experience, "‘This is a Film to Make us Unsafe in the Cinema. As We Should Be’: Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel on The Zone of Interest". The depiction of the close correlation of domestic life and mass-murder speaks to the intimate relationship the Höss family have with the destruction of a people and European culture. They profit off of the eradication in chilling and unspeakable ways, as stated by Robert Daniels for, "It is the sanitation the film performs, which speaks to the now, in a way few Holocaust films have done before". There have been many films on this most horrifying of chapters in human history. From "The Son of Saul", to "The Painted Bird", to "Night and Fog", all asking to some extent for the viewer to bear witness to unfathomable humiliation and suffering of the National Socialist's regime of dehumanizing brutality. Where Jonathan Glazer, and to a similar extent Amis' novel differs from these, is that it does more than simply ask viewers to witness. As addressed in The Guardian's interview, "Jonathan Glazer on his Holocaust Film The Zone of Interest: ‘This is Not About the Past, it’s About Now’". This discomfiting work, expressed through an immaculate sense of visual aesthetics delivers the viewer into an antiseptic, even pastoral at times, visual environment which stands in stark contrast to the debasement and horrors happening off-screen. It is between these two points which the film's cast found the space, and frame of mind necessary to depict, "The Family Life of the Nazi Commander at Auschwitz", and specifically, in the pages of The New Yorker, the plumbing of "How Sandra Hüller Approached Playing a Nazi". Peter Bradshaw's review from Cannes places the film in a tradition of representing the horror of these events indirectly, like Claude Lanzmann and Michael Haneke before him, and in a striking coda sequence presents a vision from our present-day future, delivering the most powerful blow in, "Jonathan Glazer's Chilling Holocaust Drama".