The Zone of Interest”: A Harrowing Holocaust Film with a Unique Perspective


Jonathan Glazer’s latest film, “The Zone of Interest,” takes audiences into the heart of the Holocaust with a fresh and haunting perspective.

Set in the 40-square-kilometer area surrounding the Auschwitz concentration camp, the movie explores the lives of those on the other side of the wall—the perpetrators and the willfully ignorant. With an absence of explicit violence and suffering, Glazer manages to create a deeply unsettling and terrifying experience that solidifies the film’s place among the great works on the Holocaust.

Inspired by Martin Amis’ 2014 book, Glazer chose to focus on the lives of Rudolf Hoss (played by Christian Friedel), the Commandant of Auschwitz, his wife Hedwig (portrayed by Sandra Huller), their children, servants, and other individuals who inhabited a sprawling home just outside the camp.

Separated from the horrors by a wall of ivy, lilac bushes, and a flourishing garden meticulously crafted by Hedwig, the family enjoys an almost idyllic existence. Glazer employs a unique filming technique, using ten cameras positioned in fixed locations throughout the house, remotely operated by focus pullers.

This approach offers a natural portrayal of daily life juxtaposed against the bright blue skies tainted by smoke and the distant guard tower. Most chillingly, faint sounds of horror, death, and gunfire echo from the other side of the wall.

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The film opens with the title slowly fading into a stark black screen, accompanied by imposing music courtesy of Mica Levi’s spare score. Eventually, an image emerges—an idyllic scene of a family basking in the lush green surroundings by a river. Yet, it becomes evident that this is no ordinary family outing.

Throughout the film, snapshots of this starkly different lifestyle unfold in the shadow of a death camp. Hedwig sees her home as a utopia, a realization of Hitler’s promises to the German people, which enables her to deny the atrocities happening just beyond the wall. In one instance, she casually mentions, “The Jews are over the wall,” effectively blocking out any acknowledgement of the horrors next door.

Meanwhile, Rudolf presides over business meetings that discuss the efficient operation of crematoriums and the disposal of different groups, devoid of any emotion. Their children play with toy soldiers, one wearing a Nazi uniform, while the family dog roams carefree. Servants maintain a pristine environment, and family gatherings are a regular occurrence. Hedwig confides in Rudolf before they sleep in separate beds, expressing her longing to return to an Italian spa they once visited.

For the Hoss family, life couldn’t be better—they live in their “dream life,” their own paradise within Auschwitz. However, when Rudolf receives news of his transfer to Berlin, tensions arise as Hedwig confronts him by the riverside, where he swims and boats with their children. She vehemently opposes the move, as Auschwitz represents the perfect place to raise their family. Rudolf works to convince his superiors to let them stay, even as he takes on expanded duties overseeing the entire concentration camp operation.

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While much of the film revolves around this community, we also catch glimpses of Rudolf in Berlin, attending opulent Nazi parties and callously remarking to his wife on the phone about the possibility of gassing groups in such grand settings with their high ceilings. Glazer extensively researched the historical context for two years, collaborating with the Auschwitz Museum and other organizations.

In contrast to the book, the film uses the real-life names of the individuals involved, enhancing its authenticity. The technology employed by Glazer and his crew, which kept them off the set, allowed the actors to improvise at times, resulting in a captivating depiction of the atrocities

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