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The Zone of Interest review from Cannes: Five stars for Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust ‘masterpiece’


Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) shows her mother around her garden in the sunshine. Three years ago, it was just a field, but now it has neat lawns, paved paths, a swimming pool, a greenhouse, and thriving flowerbeds. “It’s a garden of paradise,” her proud mother exclaims. But, of course, the family would not have had its enviable home if not for the hard work of Hedwig’s husband Rudolf (Christian Friedl). “He gets pressured like you wouldn’t believe,” she says.

The quiet middle-class women’s chatter couldn’t be more ordinary, but it’s made startlingly surreal and so macabre by a few details they don’t seem to notice: the gray, barbed-wire-covered wall on one side of the garden; the barracks and the belch chimney immediately behind; and the constant background noise of industrial rumbling, steam locomotives rumbling, some intermittent screeching, and the occasional echo of gunshots. Slowly and steadily, without any major and sudden revelations, we learn that Rudolf is Rudolf Höss, commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, and that he, his wife and their young children enjoy a contented, healthy, if slightly dull life while thousands of people are murdered every day just a few feet away.

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Jonathan Glazer, writer and director of Under the Skin, Birth, and Sexy Beast, has made a Holocaust film like no other—one that makes his point not by depicting the atrocities endured in the camps, but by excluding them. A blood-freezing thesis about the banality of evil, The Zone of Interest credits it as being based on a novel by Martin Amis, but Glazer removes almost everything in the novel, including the plot. The everyday domestic chores he leaves behind are so understated and undramatic that the film feels like a speed-documentary, except it is made up of beautiful, sharp tableaus. Höss is never shown within the camp itself, and the nature of his work is barely mentioned, even when he has meetings about rations and payments with his colleagues. When Hedwig tries on a fur coat delivered home with a bunch of other clothes, and when one of the boys plays with some gold teeth, no one discusses where the items came from.

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