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London Film Festival 2023: The Zone of Interest review – A horrific, soul-destroying masterpiece

Jonathan Glazer writes and directs The Zone of Interest. The film stars Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller.

The Zone of Interest is loosely based on Martin Amis’s 2014 novel of the same name. The film focuses on Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp and his wife, Hedwig. They strive to build a perfect life for their family in a house beside the camp.

I rarely watch a film I consider a masterpiece and have no immediate desire to rewatch it. With The Zone of Interest, even calling it my favourite of the year feels off. It is a horrific, soul-destroying watch that just so happens to be a masterclass in filmmaking. It managed to induce anger and pain in a way few films can.

The use of juxtaposition in this film may be the best I have ever witnessed. It is created through both sound and visuals. Visually, the camp is a stark contrast to the house which Höss and his family inhabit. Vines cover the barbed-wired walls which separate the camp and the family’s home from the house side alone. Flower gardens, swimming pools and water features are on the grounds. All we see from the camp are brick buildings and smoke constantly produced through chimneys. Away from the camp and house, we see the Höss family enjoying days down an idyllic river setting and sailing in boats, playing games, and relaxing in nature.

We hear the atrocious things which are happening but never on their own. Mostly, we get these sounds behind the sounds of a family living with no care in the world. The sounds of screams, gunshots and distant vile speech are heard throughout but get drowned out by birthday parties, kids playing in the ‘snow’ and day-to-day activities. The sound design is incredible. The evil doings are known events, so we don’t have to see the violence happening. The sounds drip through are enough to generate the intended anger, hate and fear.

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There isn’t an immediate feeling of hate or anger towards the Höss family. They are introduced in a manner which makes them seem like a typical family. A typical family enjoying a day out, having fun, laughing, and relaxing. Then, scene by scene, the audience is given more reasons to despise them. The kids are innocent, but the eldest son’s treatment shows that they are being indoctrinated into the Nazi ways.

The waves of anger are directed through the parents of the Höss family. Rudolf Höss was at the helm of the most significant case of genocide that has ever occurred. His character is mainly shown in a work capacity, so we immediately and rightfully paint him as the villain. The work of the script and Sandra Hüller’s performance make the audience despise Hedwig. Her blasé attitude towards the plight of the Jewish people is sickening. Her evil is shown best through the fleeting visit of her mother and the aftermath of her exit. Hüller may be in line to receive two Oscar nominations in 2024 for her performance here and her lead effort in Anatomy of a Fall.

The Zone of Interest will stick in my mind for years to come, and eventually, I will be able to sit and take in this masterpiece again.

London Film Festival 2023: The Zone of Interest review – A horrific, soul-destroying masterpiece

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