KSL Movie Show Review: ‘The Zone of Interest’ is an anxiety-ridden cinematic experience

Jan 26, 2024, 9:54 AM | Updated: Feb 2, 2024, 10:40 am

The Zone of Interest...

SALT LAKE CITY — The first question I had before seeing this movie – how does a film that deals with Auschwitz get a PG-13 rating?  I soon learned after watching the movie that Auschwitz itself is like a lumbering background partner.  It’s right there, referred to and you can even hear faintly the muffled horror of what’s taking place, but it’s not the focus of this anxiety-ridden cinematic experience.

So what is it about then?

It’s about the Höss family that lived right next door.  In fact, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) was the longest-serving commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp living just feet away from the imposing wall, guard shack and front gates in a shockingly idyllic residence, complete with gardens, wading pool and graveled walkways.

Rudolf, his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their five children lived in this blindered paradise for the first few years of World War II.  Eventually, his camp ran so efficiently that he was transferred to a site near Berlin where he was put in charge of all of the camps, while his family begged to stay behind at Auschwitz because they had grown so fond of it, especially his wife.  

They were allowed to stay. Rudolf missed them terribly, admitting to Hedwig that his only thought aside from his family was how to expedite the extermination process in his camps more quickly.  He eventually was ordered back to Auschwitz, so he could implement his new and improved plans. 

Meanwhile, his family thrived in this countryside villa.  In fact, the greater part of this movie is watching them going about their mundane lives as if they lived next to some simple industrial factory that made matchsticks or some such.  

A jarring sense of normalcy

The film’s director, Jonathan Glazer, was so determined to make it look as ordinary as possible, he had the crew set up ten inconspicuous cameras around the grounds, so the family could go about their business without hesitation, never knowing if they were being filmed or not. It certainly added to the laissez-faire attitude that the storyline required.

Therein, could also be a problem for a casual moviegoer, who might stumble into this Nazi nightmare and not see that its prolonged, boring, playful shots are tempered by a continual uneasiness of a transport train arriving, the whirling sound of the droning camp machinery or the constant plumes of smoke in the background.  It’s maddening for the audience.  So why wasn’t it for the participants? 

I think that’s the question THE ZONE OF INTEREST is asking.  Does it answer it?  Kind of, but not really.  I assume the filmmaker wants you to draw your own conclusions but isn’t this why we sat down to watch this thing in the first place?  Or is the answer a complex kaleidoscope of following orders, psychopathic tendencies and ignoring horrific realities?  

Well, it certainly got me thinking about it, which I guess was its ultimate intention. 

THE ZONE OF INTEREST (A-) Up for five Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best International Feature Film and Best Sound. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some suggestive material and smoking. Starring Sandra Hüller, Christian Friedel, Freya Kreutzkam, Ralph Herforth and Max Beck. Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer (“Under the Skin” “Birth”) – filmed at Auschwitz. Running time: 105 minutes. 

The KSL Movie Show with Andy Farnsworth and Steve Salles airs Fridays on KSL NewsRadio from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Follow the show on Facebook, and join The KSL Movie Show Club for exclusive perks by texting MOVIE to 57500.

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KSL Movie Show Review: ‘The Zone of Interest’ is an anxiety-ridden cinematic experience