On Screen: “The Zone of Interest”

The Zone of Interest

How do you choose what movie to watch? Most people want to be entertained. Others want to be educated. British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s harrowing Holocaust drama “The Zone of Interest” — recipient of five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director — falls into the latter category.

Loosely adapted from Martin Amis’ 2014 novel, it follows the seemingly mundane lives of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Hoss (Christian Friedl), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Huller) and their five children who dwell in a comfortable home that’s adjacent to the notorious concentration camp in western Poland.

Their story begins with a bucolic scene as the Hoss family is enjoying a picnic by the river. Driving home, they seem blissfully unaware of the cruelty and genocide occurring next door — despite the ambient sound of reverberating gunshots, audible cries, dogs barking and roar of the crematorium fires.

When her husband brings home ‘loot’ confiscated from prisoners delivered regularly by transport trains, Hedwig grabs a fur coat, tries it on and is delighted to find that it fits her perfectly; there’s even a lipstick in the pocket. One of her sons avidly collects gold teeth.

Tending her carefully landscaped fruit trees and gardens, nourished by human ash, Hedwig is so enamored of her residence that — when Rudolf is transferred to another camp — she insists on staying behind.

According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, S.S. Commandant Hoss masterminded the mass murder of 1.1 million men, women and children, most of them Jews. But that’s never discussed.

Instead, the Hoss family, enjoying their powerful position, embodies Nazi values, emphasizing self-interest as opposed to empathy. They’re inordinately proud of their multi-story villa with its swimming pool and extensive greenhouses.

It’s a chilling depiction of what American historian-political theorist Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”

Working with Polish cinematographer Lukasz Zal, Glazer chooses to present the horrors occurring over the barbed wire-topped wall sonically — meaning that he never ‘shows’ familiar images of the atrocities. They’re only heard — which assumes audiences are well aware of what they’re not seeing.

FYI: 1) The titular “Zone of Interest” is what the Nazis called the restricted zone around Auschwitz. 2) Rudolf Hess was hanged in 1947, but his complicit wife Hedwig remarried and lived in the United States until her death in 1989.

In interviews, Jonathan Glazer maintains: “Fascism starts in the family. This is not a film about the past. It’s about now, and about us and our similarity to the perpetrators, not our similarity to the victims.”

Is it a commentary on isolationism? Is it about our refusal to acknowledge the desperation of the homeless in our cities and/or refugees on our Southern border? Glazer hopes the audience will appreciate its timely relevance.

In German with English subtitles — on the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Zone of Interest” is an agonizing, excruciating 8, showing in theaters.


Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures. Her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M.

As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O’Brien, and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism.

During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie and drama critic, syndicating her reviews and articles around the world, including Video Librarian. She has appeared on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies. In 2017, her book 150 Timeless Movies was published by Hannacroix Creek Books. Her website is www.susangranger.com.

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