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Film: The Zone of Interest
Cast: Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Johann Karthaus
Director: Jonathan Glazer
Rating: 3.5/5
Runtime: 107 min

Jonathan Glazer’s film is a very loose adaptation of the Martin Amis novel on the Holocaust. In the film he shows us the everyday life of a Nazi Kommandant and his family while leaving the horrors of the Holocaust to slowly seep into our imagination. We don’t see the inhumanity happening but we definitely get the gist of it through the intelligently structured audio-visual entreaty. The beauty of it all is that there’s no plot. Glazer is in complete control of what he wants to show and not so much about what he wants us to know and interpret.

Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig ( Sandra Huller) are living the ‘Fantasy Ideal’ that Hitler promised them. But for the audience watching them gloat through that splendidly shadowed sun, given the knowledge that thousands of Jews were being incarcerated, tortured and damned just across their compound wall in Auschwitz, it becomes a stark inducement for memories of a period that is unforgivable. Christian Friedel`s Hoess is terrifyingly normal. He was a devoted family man but as the Kommandant of Auschwitz, he oversaw the murder of around three million people. He sees the running of a concentration camp as a job and uses the German ethic of hard work and organisation to fulfill his duties. His wife and children too seem normal. The only time we see the evil seeping in is when Hedwig, upset with her husband’s transfer, takes it out on the maid. Threatening her in no uncertain terms that she would tell her husband to scatter the maid’s ashes all across the land. Hoess’ wife is upset because the transfer might lead to her losing her idyllic lifestyle. The transfer happens. The wife and kids stay back and later on, within a year (May ’44), Hoess’ gets re-appointed to Auschwitz.

As an audience we are trapped within Rudolf’s home and work place. The Zone of Interest is nevertheless chilling when we see his child pulling aside the curtain when he overhears a prisoner being punished or when we see his older brother, clad in Hitler Youth uniform, playing with the loose teeth of the dead. Glazer also casts haunting images as radical shake-ups in between the monotone regularity.

Despite the very dry, unemotional nature of this telling, the narrative demands attention. Sometimes the most important thing happening on screen is happening in the background. A column of crematorium smoke, hazy ash floating by, human remains floating in what otherwise seems like crystal clear water of the river, there’s even a suggestion that ash manure used to tend the gardens might have come from crematorium off-shoots.

It’s only towards the final moments of the film that we see some semblance of a resolution. Hoss’ coughing fit might just be something more serious than even he imagined. It’s a hint that he might not be as unaffected by what he was responsible for in those troubling days. The enormity of that horror sinks in when we see workers cleaning the glass displays of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

This is not a movie that you can enjoy in the traditional sense. It’s an experience that makes you think and maybe helps you get some handle on the vagaries of human behavior. Of course, it might also be very hard not to draw parallels in the current scenario. The very oppressed during Nazi rule have now become the oppressors. It makes you wonder whether life’s lessons are ever imbibed or understood completely?

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