TIFF 2023 | The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer, UK / Poland / US) — Special Presentations

By James Lattimer

It’s become a loose tradition that filmmakers seldom get their first invite to the Cannes Competition for their best films, and Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest is a typical case in point, proving his peerless control of the medium on the one hand while lacking most of the extra layers and spiralling messiness that made his previous works so rich. Although Glazer’s conceptual approach to depicting the Holocaust is typically astute, whereby the unrepresentable is kept strictly to the domain of the offscreen space, even the smartest of strategies begins to wear thin when applied largely without variation or development. 

The description of the plot already encapsulates this approach almost entirely: camp commandant Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their family live in their dream house in the very shadow of Auschwitz, which is heard and felt, but never seen. Aside from brief interludes that draw even closer to the camp via thermal imaging and a coda back in Germany, the bulk of the film shows the unchanging, unspectacular, entirely incongruous everyday life of this family in images pristine to the point of oppressiveness. While the prevailing sense of stasis certainly provides ample opportunity for reflection, it also gives more than enough time to consider the feeling that perhaps the very same point, however valid, is being made in each and every scene: just how is it possible for all this to continue with what it going on outside?  

When the coda steps outside of this reality and Glazer begins to play with both time and genre, it underlines his untiring inventiveness, conjures up the sort of unceasing now folds that structured his previous work and illustrates how such expansive, unexpected gestures were missing both formally and conceptually in the monotony of what came before. And maybe that’s the ultimate issue here: the Holocaust is far too big a subject to be contained by one smart strategy.