In 2023, The Zone of Interest was recommended among the top ten films for EyeOnLondon’s, Cinema Club. It has since been nominated for nine BAFTA awards, with the ceremony scheduled for February 18, 2024.
The Zone of Interest UK premiered to critical acclaim at last year’s London Film Festival when almost 5,000 people watched it at the Royal Festival Hall over two separate screenings. The film proved to be the most popular film at the 67th LFF. Not only in terms of pre-bookings, but also in terms of capacity. All hot on the heels of The Grand Prix award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where three more prizes were given to the film. Touted as the most anticipated film of the year, it’s some ten years since director Jonathan Glazer made his last feature film, Under the Skin. His first movie being the ‘Brit Gangster Flick’ Sexy Beast in 2000.
To walk into this film wholly uninitiated would be the best plan of action for actual full-on impact. Should you wish to do that? Stop reading this review. That, however, would be a tad churlish. So, I’ll steer you through. Just imagine that you haven’t seen any clips, trailers, or read any reviews (no official Trailers or Clips have yet been made available at the time of writing this).
The next two paragraphs will attempt to describe the film as Glazer intended you to see it. Fresh.
A black screen filled with unsettling sonic-inspired music lasts for up to three deafening minutes. Next, we watch a group of people relaxing by a midsummer lake. Some young men are seen fooling around, splashing one another. Subsequent scenes show a well-off family with a large house that has an extensive garden situated near to fields and an orchard. The family appears to be happy. They have a pet dog. A maid is there working in service. This German speaking family is living in a 1940’s period house. A woman tries on a Mink Coat in her bedroom, before ordering the maid to have it cleaned. A clue suggests the origin of the coat. Disturbing background industrial sounds linger obtrusively. A frivolous garden conversation demeans people with a throwaway remark, “A typical Jew, and a typical Bolshevik’, says a female friend.
A Nazi is seen in the hallway. Over the garden wall we see glimpses of some buildings. This is Auschwitz. The Holocaust Death Camp for a million Jews, filled with its horrific gas chambers. Meanwhile, carrying on with life, the Höss household reveals the pursuit of ‘a normal everyday family’. We soon realise that this is the home of the camp Commander, Rudolph Höss. From there on in, the chills begin. The Höss family’s ambivalence as to what is going-on, unseen, soon becomes sickening. Their ‘normalisation’ of this matter beggar’s belief. It literally eats at your soul. Yet we see nothing of the prisoners and their plight. Only horrific sounds reveal certain clues as to the horrors occurring just over the Höss’s garden wall.
The 2,500 capacity LFF audience remained transfixed throughout.
Although the film is based upon the book, The Zone of Interest, by Martin Amis, writer-director Glazer obtained special permission to access Auschwitz’s archives. He examined the testimonies of a gardener who had made diary notes of a particular Höss family conversation, which he had overheard. The said conversation becomes the turning point of the film.
The servants employed by the Höss’s had also made diary notes. All now accessed and fully appraised by Glazer for his screenplay. Thereby enabling us to witness untold matters. Evidence based truisms that now lend a sharpened authenticity to the film; alongside the protagonists’ real names. Amis’s book had incorporated fictionalised scenes with fictional character names.
The uncomfortable voyeuristic cinematography of this unmoved Nazi family is well portrayed by the film’s German cast. Subtitles are provided in English throughout. The naturalism is honed from months of preparation. There were crew-cleared sets, where – in some cases – up to ten remote controlled movie cameras covered the Höss’s mundane, but deeply troubled lives.
Never has audio design – coupled with contemporary classical music – had such an impact in modern day cinema. The last time I heard such audio design and such volume – asides in comic-based sci-fi films – was 40 years ago in 1983 in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish. Meanwhile, the ground-breaking usage of Ligeti’s music in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) must have had an influence on Mica Levi’s stunning score. Albeit some five decades later.
There is much invention amid the ‘naturalism’. Nightmarish night scenes reveal one daughter of the Höss family leaving hand-picked orchard fruits in the muddy trenches of ‘The Death Camp’. All done in the dead-of-night for the prisoners to find the next day. These scenes are projected in negative monochrome and shot on Thermal Imaging Cameras. A mixture of contemporary documentary footage is also later fused with the film’s usage of naturalism versus non-naturalism. This technique stylistically recalls certain aspects of the work of filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard, and Lindsay Anderson, and, most notably, by John MacKenzie in the BBC Play for Today film of John McGrath’s via the 7.84 Theatre Company’s The Cheviot The Stag & The Black Black Oil (1973) in a mixture of non-naturalism, dramatic naturalism, and modern day documentary techniques. This is a strength. It takes the film into the realms of Brechtian distancing devices, which are so seldom used in contemporary mainstream cinema. This Brechtian technique helps to sharpen our gaze, and focuses our engagement throughout.The Zone of Interest opens on 4th February. It also opens in January in Poland where Auschwitz remains as a retained Holocaust Museum-of-Horrors
The Zone of Interest will be nominated for nine awards at the BAFTA ceremony on the 18th February, 2024.
- Outstanding British Film – Jonathan Glazer, James Wilson, Ewa Puszczyńska
- Best Film Not In A British language – Jonathan Glazer
- Best Director – Jonathan Glazer
- Best Adapted Screenplay – Jonathan Glazer
- Best Supporting Actress – Sandra Huller
- Best Cinematography – Łukasz Żal
- Best Editor – Paul Watts
- Best Production Design – Chris Oddy, Joanna Maria Kuś, Katarzyna Sikora
- Best Sound – Johnnie Burn, Tarn Willer