Review: The Zone of Interest

Score: A

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Cast: Christian Friedel, Sandra Huller, Freya Kreutzkam, Max Beck

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Even without a single scene of violence, The Zone of Interest is the most terrifying and unsettling movie of the year. A Holocaust drama unlike any other, the film keeps the horrors at a distance, even though they are ever-present.

Christian Friedel plays Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz. His work turning the camp into a model of lethal efficiency has boosted his reputation among Nazi high command. Despite sharing a wall with a place where people are massacred every night, his wife Hedwig (Sandra Huller) has turned their house into something out of Better Homes and Gardens. The contrast couldn't be starker, even if Lukasz Zal's camera never ventures into the waking nightmare next door. The film is not subtle, nor is it blunt. It reveals what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil" in little moments that have a big impact, without emotional outbursts or needling music.

The Hoss family experiences the same ups and downs as most people: marital strife, disobedient kids, work stress. Birthdays, parties, recreation. But writer-director Jonathan Glazer (transforming Martin Amis's novel) does this not to evoke sympathy for these people. There's no attempt to "understand" the Nazi mindset, because the couple at its center - and their family and coworkers - feel absolutely no guilt or conflict about their attitude, lifestyle or actions.

The most gutting example of this is when Hedwig's mother comes to visit. While touring the garden, she (Stephanie Petrowitz) casually mentions that her former boss has been sent to a camp. Instead of horror or even the mildest sympathy, she's annoyed that she wasn't able to get the curtains she admired in her apartment. This casual cruelty is common throughout. Even when the furnaces blaze at night, they don't look away because of what the fires and smoke represent. They'd just rather not deal with the smell and the ash.

Both Friedel and Huller turn in extraordinary work. The latter especially is having an incredible year, between her icy turn here and her much more mysterious work in Anatomy of a Fall. Reuniting with Mica Levi, the score is haunting, deployed at just the right moments. And I have to again mention Lukasz Zal's cinematography. There are plenty of long takes that never show off, and some experimentations with thermal imaging in surreal interludes. But all of the craftspeople come together for a finale that knocked me flat.

This is a massive achievement from Jonathan Glazer. The nearly decade-long wait since Under the Skin was worth it. This is one of the best films of the year and one that will be remembered for decades to come.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.