Review by Joseph Fayed
Shot in a style considered unconventional given its subject matter, The Zone of Interest is as eerie as it's intended to be. The realism on screen isn't just a reflection of the film's setting; its social cues prove to be the most haunting of all. After a decade hiatus from feature filmmaking, Director Jonathan Glazer intrinsically captures a beautiful nightmare.
Rudolf Hoss is the commander of Auschwitz. In 1943, he lives next door to the camp with his wife Hedwig and their children. They live in a two-story house with a well-kept garden and pool attached to it. The film follows how Rudolf and Hedwig strive to be the perfect nuclear family despite the evil they were actively engaging in just beyond the wall that separates them from the horrors of Auschwitz.
It is gratifying to see a story about the Holocaust told with less of an emphasis on violence. While it is a true story, there is only so much trauma porn a viewer can handle to move the plot forward. It begins to feel purely done for shock value. This film is a prime example of how you can tell a story about brutality without showcasing it on screen.
The lack of apparent drama is the most intriguing part. The blend of quieter moments mainly focuses on the family aspect while never downplaying the horrors next door. There are two different films here, one that is seen and the other that is heard. Through exploring the family dynamic, there is a much-needed sense of normalcy at times. The lead performances from Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller keep the film very grounded. Neither attempts to upstage each other through their acting. Both of them are similar in terms of character arcs, with their line delivery being dependent on their abilities to be such reserved characters who are also extremely cold-hearted individuals.
The cinematography by Lukasz Zal is an impressive feat, too. The shots established throughout the Hoss family home require few cutaway shots or two shots, making you feel invested in these characters' every move. A particular scene set in the evening, shot with infrared cameras, temporarily takes you out of the colorful palette. The score by Mica Levi is just as haunting, used most effectively to break the film into different acts. Jonathan Glazer's direction proves that all of his movies so far have captured a different tone and let the performances speak for themselves. The actors get to act naturally, which is the cleverest trick for capturing the banality of evil.
The Zone of Interest teaches you about history without needing to explain any of it. Impressive filmmaking and impressive performances will carry this film to success come awards season. The creative choices were made with the fact that these were real people in mind and how, by being who they were, they were effectively living a double life.
The Zone of Interest opens in theaters on December 15.