Evil takes many forms. In cinema, it’s often exaggerated and large scale. However, in real life, there are far more passive forms of evil. Playing at the Telluride Film Festival, The Zone of Interest is fascinated by the banality of evil. The corporatization of exterminating a group of people is what the movie is examining. It’s a chilling experience, though one that certainly won’t be for everyone.
The Zone of Interest asks a lot of its audience. In depicting what it depicts in the manner it goes about, is naturally going to put off some folks. Knowing what you’re in for with filmmaker Jonathan Glazer probably helps, but this a different animal than he’s ever put forth. It’s not as wholly captivating as Under the Skin, but this film lingers and stays with you once the credits roll.
Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), along with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), are building a bucolic little life for their family. Rudolf goes to work next door to their charming home, while Hedwig tends to the garden. Now, Höss’ job is that he’s the commandant of Auschwitz, while their house is directly next to the concentration camp. As their children frolic, death lingers all around. Gun shots occasionally ring out, while the smoke from the death camp’s ovens is often seen in the background.
When Rudolf is replaced at Auschwitz and primed for a transfer, Hedwig demands he fight to maintain their way of life. As he works the system, she keeps the house impeccable. It all just goes down with untold horrors surrounding them, which is the most horrific thought of all.
Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel are chillingly good here. They could easily be playing any power couple, and that’s the point. Hüller’s status obsessed Hedwig turns on a steeliness when her way of life is potentially threatened. Friedel’s Rudolf is a middle manager, through and through. They bring these ordinary aspects to life, elevating the chilling nature of the film. Supporting players include Ralph Herforth, Freya Kreutzkam, and more.
Jonathan Glazer liberally adapts the Martin Amis novel here. His direction is as bold as ever, beginning the film with an expended black screen, Mica Levi‘s impeccable score playing. Then, it’s the banality of a bucolic experience next door to innumerate horrors. Glazer’s script is bare bones and simple, but the direction, paired with the performances, is a big swing. Not everything works, as the repetition wears thin, alongside a curious recurring sequence involving night vision, but you never doubt that you’re in the hands of a master filmmaker.
The Zone of Interest gets under your skin, no pun intended. Levi’s score is one of the best of the year, Glazer is in complete command of his craft, while this is a film that you won’t be able to get out of your head. It’s not the best movie I’ve seen at Telluride, but is it one that will linger in my mind as long as any other? You better believe it.