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  • Colin Fraser


FIVE STARS How does Rudolph Höss run a concentration camp and sleep at night?


Starring Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller

If you’ve ever wondered how fascist regimes can conduct their business with a clear conscience, THE ZONE OF INTEREST is a great starting point. Jonathan Glazer’s masterwork is a stunning exploration of that very dilemma - how do you run a concentration camp and still sleep at night?

This exceptional film takes a very unusual position, inviting audiences to stand back and observe rather than be actively involved in the story as it unfolds. That’s not to say it’s in any way a muted experience - far from it. The acclaimed director of gut-wrenching films like BIRTH or SEXY BEAST, or more abstract burners such as UNDER THE SKIN, intends a harrowing ordeal as fits Martin Amis’s source material. By forcing us to stand adjacent, the less comfortable vantage actually heightens  emotions and lets Grazer achieve what many considered impossible, film the unfilmable.

Rudolf Höss has moved his family to Poland so he can live close to his work. The Nazi officer runs Auschwitz and he’s so close that his sprawling, comfortable home shares a wall with the camp; they can hear the soldiers and inmates while having dinner or tending the garden. We never see inside, we don’t need to. We know what horror is taking place next door. But for Höss and his family, there is no horror. On their side of the wall, it’s as if the war isn’t happening.

And for them it isn’t. He runs the camp as a you might run a supermarket - there are KPI’s to meet, product to move, staff to handle, mangers to please. Equipment needs upgrading - he’s considering installing a new furnace to improve efficiency - and standards to uphold. This is how you run a concentration camp and also sleep at night.

Likewise his wife has her part to play maintaining the house, bringing up the children, tending the garden, hosting social events. She has help; terrified staff sourced not from the camp but the local village. Slaves effectively, people who help her manage a war and sleep at night.

It’s important to note that Glazer doesn’t portray any of them explicitly as monsters; there are countless films that have done that already. His goal is to reveal the ease with which we accept human monstrosity and in that he utterly succeeds. Whilst focussed on Nazi atrocity, the story is a jump spot to ponder the justification of harming others for our own good (how much do appalling conditions in mobile phone factories really trouble you, for instance). 

THE ZONE OF INTEREST is a truly remarkable film. By leveraging our desire to witness the unwatchable, our base curiosity and voyeurism, Glazer reveals the worst of humankind in a profound, meditative and, for all its distance, an immersive experience. He doesn’t offer hope, but does offer understanding, and does so with unparalleled originality.



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