1943 Auschwitz. The death camp commandant Rudolf Hoss (Christian Friedel) lives in a neighbouring house with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Huller) and their five children in an idyllic existence. However, Hoss’s reassignment to Oranienburg creates tensions between him and Hedwig, who wants to stay in the home she has created.
Glazer doesn’t show what happened in Auschwitz, instead letting the soundtrack of screams and gunfire interspersed with the occasional shot of a smoking chimney convey the horrors as the Hoss family go about their daily business. This juxtaposition is the most inspired element of the film, which fully illustrates the banality of evil that permeated Nazi German society. Other examples include Hedwig and her mother’s casual conversation about the fate of a former Jewish employer and the recurring appearances of a servant stealing apples to feed to the prisoners. These moments serve to puncture the normality of scenes showing the Hoss family and underline the fact that the Nazis and Germans that contributed to the Holocaust were ordinary people, not one-dimensional, demonic figures. Despite this, Glazer and director of photography Lukasz Zal‘s joint decision to avoid using close-up shots of the Hoss family, instead letting the action play out in mostly long shots, helps to keep the family at a distance and removes audience empathy more effectively than overly negative dialogue ever could. Huller gives an excellent performance as Hedwig, skilfully conveying how her aspirations combine with her angry and abusive nature towards her servants. However, it is Friedel who impresses the most, as his early depiction of Rudolf’s commitment to his job later reveals how he has been corrupted by his actions.
The Zone of Interest is one of the most effective films made about the Holocaust. Glazer’s minimalist approach brings home the horrors that humanity is capable of without resorting to graphic imagery and leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions.