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Review: Jonathan Glazer's Holocaust Movie is a New Perspective in 'The Zone of Interest'

There is no denying that the Holocaust happened. Millions of Jewish people lost their lives to a madman who sought power for a select few and disregarded the lives of many. 1940s Europe has been depicted in countless films, many of which have become some of history's most memorably somber cinematic experiences. Of the literal thousands of these movies, very few have shown what went on in concentration camps that have since become relics of museums' past. British director Jonathan Glazer has dipped his toe into the shadowy waters of the Holocaust with his newest film, "The Zone of Interest," a stark presentation of the point of view of those who enjoyed the chaos of the moment.

"The Zone of Interest" is based on the 2014 book of the same name and stars Christian Friedel as Rudolf Höss, the real German SS officer who oversaw the Auschwitz concentration camp and pioneered the despicable implementation of pesticides in gas chambers that eventually killed the camp's Jewish prisoners. German actress Sandra Hüller plays Höss' wife, Hedwig, a content mother and wife who enjoys life on the couple's gorgeous estate directly next to Auschwitz. Amongst the deafening screams and gunshots from the camp, the self-appointed "Queen of Auschwitz" and her family believe their lives are perfect and want nothing more than to continue their existence on their riverfront property.

It is immediately apparent from the haunting 5-minute overture over a black screen that "The Zone of Interest" is not a redeemable story. As the film progresses, a slow burn of a premise creates room for Höss to lose his place among Hitler's most trusted commandants as Hedwig desperately tries to hold onto the life they've built alongside the war crimes on full display adjacent to their luscious home. As the war reaches its final days, the actions of the Höss family become crystal clear: These people are pure evil, and they have zero emotion with no thought of the consequences of their lives in this hellscape.

But, one man's inferno is another woman's salvation. Glazer's staggering direction gives way to visual marvels as the director focuses on the pleasant aspects of the Höss home with burning chimneys from Auschwitz echoing in the background. The film normalizes torture and the atrocities that lay next door as the family enjoys swimming in their pool, tending to an ever-expansive garden, and swimming in the nearby river. Idyllic in every sense of the word, Glazer purposely depicts the Jewish prisoners next door as faceless as they are ruthlessly exterminated.

The two main characters are on the wrong side of history, but they don't recognize it. The absolute disregard for human suffering in the name of an idyllic lifestyle is a new low, even for a Nazi. It's up to Glazer's audience to fill in the context of the Holocaust, as very little information is shared about what is happening on the grounds next door. But we've all seen a World War II film before, and context in this regard is simply not needed. What is required is a reason as to why we should dive into the lives of Nazis enjoying their existence before Hitler's fall from grace. It's a difficult watch but a must-see, chilling in every sense of the word without the use of jump scares or a darkened milieu.

This year, Jonathan Glazer will undoubtedly see his name amongst those in awards contention as the filmmaker has made a masterpiece. The juxtaposition of this family living a comfortable existence directly next to the horrors of the most famous concentration camp is awe-inspiring. Uncomfortable as it is essential, the film benefits from misguided characters mixed with a soul-stirring score by Mica Levi. Glazer triumphs with a well-timed Fade to Red rather than the typical Fade to Black technique, a choice that separates the story with a solitary perspective. While Sandra Hüller may receive a lot of praise for her performance as a culpable figure looking to keep up with her affluent lifestyle, the steady hand of Christian Friedel as Rudolf Höss makes the true-to-life character iconic. The film is neither explosive nor fast-paced, as the focus never wavers from astonishing illustrations and a slow-moving period aspect.

"The Zone of Interest" is unique in its ambitious approach to telling a new side of a well-told war operation. Jewish people are an afterthought to the characters we learn more and more about as the movie continues. It's remarkably constrained, devilishly produced, and unlike any other Holocaust film to date.

Evil does exist in this world and its name is Höss.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟🎟🎟


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