The Zone of Interest | Fresh Takes

Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.

Danielle, Harrison, Lauren, Sihaam & Thomas

25 Jan 24

Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas. 

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Here are some Fresh Takes on The Zone of Interest, the Grand Prix-winning new film from Jonathan Glazer which takes a bold new approach to the story of Auschwitz, told through the eyes of the camp's commandant and his family.

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Lauren Taylor, 24

Lauren is a film and cinema enthusiast and enjoys immersing herself in the world of storytelling through the lens of a camera.

Lauren says...

The Zone of Interest is a haunting exploration of the perplexing co-existence between Rudolph Höss and his family and the atrocities of Auschwitz.

Director Jonathan Glazer expertly navigates this by intertwining haunting visual shots of the Holocaust – glimpses of recognisable barbed wire fencing and watchtowers – and the mundane, domestic scenes from inside the Höss family home. Coupled with disturbing background noise, viewers are forced to tune out the distant sounds of gunshots, trains and muffled screams, just as the Höss family detach themselves from the horrific realities occurring just beyond their garden wall.

This unconventional approach gives the audience a whole new perspective on the brutalities committed. Glazer meticulously avoids explicit acts to instead exemplify the banality of evil – luring viewers unnervingly through harrowing scenes that leave an uncomfortable, but lasting, impact.

Thomas Wallman, 18

Thomas is currently attending college in Brighton and will be studying Film and French at the University of Bristol in September. You can find more of his writing on Letterboxd.

Thomas says...

If you had told me the director of Sexy Beast would go on to make perhaps the most thought-provoking, chilling depiction of the Holocaust in all of cinema, I would never have believed you. Yet 23 years later (and with only two other feature-length films in between) Jonathan Glazer proves himself one of the most unique and fascinating directors of the modern era with The Zone of Interest, an equally harrowing and sincere analysis of human cruelty and complicity.

Glazer takes the camera and constricts it, not once attempting to dramatise the atrocities of the Holocaust. Instead, he finds power in contrast: a perfect, almost unreal garden estate isolated in a sea of distant screams and violence. An absence is created between reality and the images presented on screen.

As viewers, we sit within this absence: appalled by what we cannot see yet know is there, and outraged by the characters' ability to ignore it. This is all enhanced by a chilling score and unnervingly beautiful production design, as Glazer takes hold of our emotions and forces us to digest the unimaginable. In summary, The Zone of Interest is a paragon of modern contemplative cinema and an absolute must-see.

Harrison Whitaker, 24

Harrison is finishing his PhD in Film & Screen Studies at the University of Cambridge.

Harrison says...

For Jonathan Glazer, the devil is always in the details. In his latest feature, The Zone of Interest, beautifully composed shots of banal domestic scenes — children playing in a pool, gardeners tilling the ground, household staff preparing the next meal — are always unsettled by a distant smokestack or a muffled gunshot. It's in these spare details that the horror of the film is first disclosed: the placid household we see is that of Rudolf Höss, commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Glazer, whose elegant, offbeat directorial style has made each of his three previous features minor masterpieces, employs his setting to provocative, harrowing ends. Unlike most other classic films about the atrocities of the Holocaust, no atrocities are seen firsthand. The frame completely excises victims, instead creating a looming sense of terror through Lukasz Zal's foreboding widescreen cinematography and Mica Levi's sparse, imposing score. Even so, The Zone of Interest is all the more horrifying because of it.

The film's focus on the Höss household's minor quibbles and daily inanities shows grand acts of evil can lurk in the shadows of routines and commonplaces. Rudolf Höss's deadly orders are given in managerial phrases that, if it weren't for their content, wouldn't be out of place in most modern offices. Glazer, in showing the capacity for people to ignore the ultimate suffering in the name of personal equanimity, forces his audience to question exactly how much their own lives may be built on similarly unmentionable foundations.

Danielle Kleinerman, 24

Danielle is currently undertaking a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies in London and holds a master's in film studies. She is very passionate about providing opportunities for young people wishing to get involved in film!

Danielle says...

What strikes you first about The Zone of Interest is its title screen. You only learn later, thanks to those first lengthy minutes, that this is a film about listening, not looking.

There's some irony to that; it is stunning. The vibrant colours are most reminiscent of something like the distinct, warm, palette of Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven. And yet, it isn't before long that the viewer is reminded of what they're watching onscreen: the life of a Nazi family.

As a non-practicing Jew, I was curious to see how the extreme sensitivity of the material would be handled, and I was impressed. A large majority of films that deal with the Holocaust do away with brightness and colour—think Schindler's List —and though the film showers you with both of those, its effect is one of juxtaposition.

Images of concentration camps are by now seared in our collective memories, and the film knows that. What about beyond the wall? Though Rudolf's wife, Hedwig, tries to hide the ugliness of inhumanity by growing ivy over the camp wall, they can never escape its noise: shrieking, fires blazing, and sporadic gunshots. Indeed, you could argue that much of the film deals with the characters' internal struggle to imagine what life (if you can call it that) looks like beyond the Höss's 'white picket fence'.

Throughout the film, I worried about how one might close such a microcosmic story, and I was not disappointed. Without spoiling, the film uses quietness, for the first time, to make its final point, and I can guarantee this will leave most audiences breathless. For that, Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest is one of my favourites in a year of great film: it is a must-watch.

Sihaam Naik, 22

Sihaam is a writer and editor based in London. She is currently at Vogue India, writing about intimacy on the internet. Read more of her work here.

Sihaam says...

The Zone of Interest is a masterclass on mise en scène. Every frame is stifling, with picturesque landscapes against manufactured horrors. The soundtrack is haunting, with music that made my skin crawl until the credits rolled. I could not look away until tears were falling down my eyes.

Sandra Hüller gives a standout performance as Hedwig Höss, a woman fiercely holding onto her right to a gorgeous house – built around the decay and ash of a concentration camp. Each second she was on screen was terrifying but mesmerising. Her husband, played by Christian Friedel, is the mastermind behind the camp's new torturous devices, and both he and Hüller dominate the screen with their happy family tirade.

The film was so immersive – I felt the acrid stench perfume the air when the characters stepped outside, the warm blaze of the incessant fire against their bedroom windows. I sighed in relief when someone reacted to the tragedy, simply because the Höss family thrived in this lawless environment; after seeing endless violence in the background of mundane family life, the ending feels euphoric. We all know what side of history families like the Höss family were on. The Zone of Interest made its message clear, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since.

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