Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Written by: Jonathan Glazer
Starring: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Johann Karthaus, Luis Noah Witte, Nele Ahrensmeier, Lilli Falk
Released: February 22, 2024
Grade: A+

The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest is the story of a well-to-do family going about their day-to-day lives.  The father is a military man who, in trying to earn promotion, puts in long hours and is passionate about his work.  The mother is a stay-at-home type who tends to the backyard garden and provides direction to the hired help.  The five children are given ample time for play – picnicking on the grassy banks of a beautiful river, and swimming in the confides of their private swimming pool.

It’s probably the right time to reveal this not a traditional, wholesome family drama.  The year is 1943, the Nazi dad is commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and the two-storey home borders the camp itself.  Hundreds of great movies have been made about World War II and, if compiling a list of the best, The Zone of Interest deserves a place near the top for its boldness, originality, and emotional heft.

The idea came to the mind of English writer-director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast, Under the Skin) after reading a fictionalised book authorised by Martin Amis.  Years of research followed which included visiting the actual home (it’s still there today), working with historians at the museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau, reading first-hand testimonies, and scanning archival photos.  In interviews about the finished film, Glazer talks about the heavy weight of responsibility in making sure the story is told as authentically as possible.

It’s hard to watch The Zone of Interest and not feel its deliberate coldness.  Glazer’s approach is to only show things from the perspective of the household.  We don’t see inside the concentration camp at all.  Folks make innocuous small talk in the garden while smoke billows from furnaces in the background.  Lunch is prepared inside the house while gunfire and screams are heard in the distance.  One of the world’s greatest atrocities is taking place on their doorstep and this family couldn’t care less.

Filmmaker George Miller described Mad Max: Fury Road as “a film we see with our ears” and The Zone of Interest could be described in the same manner.  What we see on screen is important… but it’s the sounds which allow us to visualise the horror taking place on the other side of the wall.  Sound designer Johnnie Burn (The Lobster) compiled a 600-page research document, painstakingly recreated the background noises, and added them all in post-production.  Kudos also goes to Oscar-nominated cinematographer Łukasz Żal (Ida, Cold War) for creating a “hidden camera” look as characters move from room to room.

It’s easy to look back and simplify events with the benefit of hindsight but Glazer wants us to think about today’s world.  What are we currently turning a blind-eye to which future generations will judge us on?  Nominated for best picture, best director and best screenplay at the upcoming Academy Awards, The Zone of Interest is chilling and thought provoking.