email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

CANNES 2023 Competition

Review: The Zone of Interest


- CANNES 2023: Jonathan Glazer’s latest endeavour reiterates the concept of the banality of evil for almost two hours, creating an eerie atmosphere that is more aesthetically interesting than meaningful

Review: The Zone of Interest

Jonathan Glazer’s new feature, The Zone of Interest [+see also:
film profile
, is certainly a work worth discussing. A few bold aesthetic choices and a disquieting atmosphere permeate the whole picture, which explores one of the most tragic chapters in the history of mankind. The film, loosely adapted from Martin Amis’s 2014 novel, was world-premiered in the main competition of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

We’re in Auschwitz. The three concentration camps and their horrors are only a stone’s throw away from what we see depicted on screen because here, we only focus on Commander Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), and his kids, all living in an elegant country house surrounded by a large garden.

The Zone of Interest opens with a black screen that lingers for a few minutes, accompanied by Mica Levi’s horrific score, which seems to be made out of distorted instrumental music mixed with screams, moans and breaths. Next, the first image introduces the family of protagonists, who are relaxing next to the river, and the subsequent scene depicts them outside their dream house. The movie has already shown its only conflict – the seemingly normal life of a family goes on while horrors of every kind are taking place just next door.

Hedwig is shown as a caring wife, and as a very demanding employer when it comes to her servants; Höss acts as a good father to his kids, but he’s also seen as a meticulous public servant who played a crucial role in the Holocaust. The other characters around them (mostly military officials and servants) have marginal roles, except for the couple’s daughter, who suffers from sleep disorders and is probably crushed under the weight of the nightmares triggered by the nearby presence of the camp, of which she remains unaware.

The humdrum nature of most of the characters’ actions – for example, Hedwig dealing with her servants and preparing meals, and Höss telling bedtime stories, reading letters or briefing his fellow officers – means that many dialogues are scarcely interesting to hear, with a few exceptions. Among these are the encounter that Höss has with two engineers during which they cold-heartedly discuss the efficiency of gas chambers, and a conversation between the commander and Hedwig after having an argument. She speaks about Germany’s “living space” and how their apparently idyllic life is in line with the Fuhrer’s propagandistic recommendation of “going East”, living in the countryside and raising kids.

Unfortunately, the disturbing atmosphere – well crafted yet monotonous – and the cast’s performances don’t alter the fact that Glazer’s picture reiterates the same concept for almost two hours. We feel as though something bigger, something overwhelming, could happen at any time – will someone run out of the place and see something they shouldn’t see? – and the possibility that the characters may enter an “otherworldly” dimension is even hinted at, but obviously this doesn’t happen. There’s nothing new under the sun, and the aforementioned aesthetic experimentations don’t make this piece any more powerful in conveying its message.

Of course, we know that evil can take banal forms. Of course, we know that many people live comfortably in their own bubble and find shelter in denial. But cinematically speaking, the picture flatlines. This lack of variety and the unchanging pace are perfectly embodied by the subtle background noise comprising gunshots, screams and marching soldiers that we can hear throughout.

This is not to say that the metaphor of the banality of evil is not worthy of representation on screen – even in this specific form, and zooming in on Höss and his family. As it stands, however, Glazer’s dramaturgical structure and the directorial approach don’t fit the feature-length format. The Zone of Interest could have found a better home as a sophisticated art installation, or within the more limited running time of a short or mid-length film. His message, not particularly novel but still important to remember, would have resonated much more powerfully.

The Zone of Interest is a British-Polish-US co-production staged by Extreme Emotions and Film4, alongside House Productions and A24.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Photogallery 20/05/2023: Cannes 2023 - The Zone of Interest

17 pictures available. Swipe left or right to see them all.

Jonathan Glazer, Sandra Hüller, Christian Friedel, Piotr Cywiński
© 2023 Fabrizio de Gennaro for Cineuropa -,

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

Privacy Policy