Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Zone of Unsubtlety

The Zone of Interest (2023) - Glazer The Zone of Interest The film starts with a family, a father fishing in the creek with his children. It's peaceful and there's nothing that suggests that he is an SS commandant in charge of operations at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Maybe not nothing, since he has the buzzcut that is most severe as far as cinema memories go, he has to be a nazi. It turns out Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel of Amour Fou, White Ribbon, Babylon Berlin) is indeed a commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and his Aryan children live in a brick and mortar house with a perfectly manicured vegetable and fruit garden, overlooking a barbed wire fence and a very active furnace of the camp. For Heddy, who hated city life, the place is a dream come true, more space, a garden, extensive supply of servants (from the camp), material goods (fur coats and jewelry, also collected from the camp), and fresh air(!) for the children. She touts proudly that she is known as the queen of Auschwitz in her social circle.

The Zone of Interest features great sound design and score. Low rumble of industrial machination (furnace) is always heard, so as frequent muffled screams and gunfires while they dine, sleep and play in the garden. Glazer doesn't let you forget that these banalities of evil are built on power and dominence, that they are not naive people shielded from what's going on just over the fence. They were consciously aware of what they were doing the whole time.

There are some striking sequences, like Höss hurriedly getting his children out of water when a sudden flow of ashes and bones flashfloods the creek they were frolicking in. The swanky garden party features active furnace spewing human ashes in the background just over the fence. And cutting between the past and present days at the end is also very powerful. But as a feature length film, the premise already has overstayed its welcome within thirty minutes of the film.

The miscalculation of the filmmaker here is that obvious visual metaphor doesn't quite work in a serious feature film, especially one about the holocaust. The point Glazer is making, the characters' willful blindness and absurdity and evilness of it, serves much better in shorts. I kept thinking of one of Roy Andersson's masterful absurdist short skits where he balances humor and tragedy perfectly.

The Zone of Interest is an obvious misfire from Glazer. Maybe his craftmanship is more suited for shorts and music videos after all.