Nazism seen from the inside by Jonathan Glazer

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Auschwitz, 1944. In “The Zone of Interest”, Jonathan Glazer takes us into the heart of the family life of the Auschwitz camp commandant. A chilling, contemporary look at the banality of horror. The film is out now. A shock. Review and interview with director Jonathan Glazer.

ANNOUNCEMENT

There are films that leave an indelible mark. There is a before and after the vision of this type of unique work that changes the perspective on a near or distant era, a political or religious ideology, an idea of ​​humanity, of its greatness as well as its horror . And “The Zone of Interest” is definitely one of them.

The film, in the official Cannes selection, only won, if I may say, the Grand Jury Prize (i.e. the Silver Palm), but also the FIPRESCI Press Award, a guarantee of excellence and innovative vision of an author.

Jonathan Glazer is obviously not unknown, but the general public only discovered him for his previous film, his fourth feature, “Under the Skin”, an ultra-brilliant fiction that sends the alien Scarlett Johansson to earth in human form to feast with human energy and warmth, especially sexual ones. Between a fantasy film about acid and an existential road movie, hieratic images and documentary reality, it is one of the most intriguing films ever seen on otherness and also, ultimately, on the mystery of creation. He also signed the music videos for Radiohead, Jamiroquai, Massive Attack and Blur, among others, but “The Zone of Interest” will remain the first film he directed and also wrote alone, even if the screenplay is an adaptation of the book namesake of Martin Amis, who died on the same day as its world premiere in Cannes.

Palma or not, “The Zone of Interest” will go down in cinema history as one of the most important films about the Holocaust, overturning representations and points of view, delivering a vision of hell that is implacable in form and content.

By placing the viewer in the role of entomologist – the film is composed entirely of fixed shots, an aesthetic and narrative marvel – of the family life of Rudolf Höss, head of the SS camp in Auschwitz in 1944, we see the horror work, in the shoes of the Nazis who are on the right side of the wall, reminding us of all the compromises, blindness and fanaticism of which human beings are capable.

Sandra Hüller’s performance as an experienced bourgeois mother is, in this sense, scandalously repugnant. The scene in which she tries on the coats of gassed Jewish women across the garden is perhaps the highlight of the film. Glazer’s camera takes the place of the mirror in which she looks at herself and, admiring herself like a lady of the world in mink, looks directly at the camera; in fact, it is her putrid soul that she shows to the viewer. The ambient soundtrack is the industrial noise of the factory burning the Jews.

The film is punctuated by a contemporary score by Mica Levi (who also wrote the soundtrack for Under the Skin) which, like the film itself, sculpts and echoes the dark desires of humanity through a score that plays on dissonances like many cracks in the apparent harmony that Glazer portrays through the isolated, bourgeois life of the Nazi family.

The film was just nominated for 5 Oscars, including two nominations in the more prestigious categories Best Film and Best Director, as well as Sandra Hüller’s nomination for the Oscar for Best Actress.

We met the director in Cannes, shortly after receiving the Grand Prix du Jury. A rare and lucid interview.

Euronews: It’s a real coincidence that Martin Amis died on the day of the first screening in Cannes. Doesn’t his death symbolize a new life for his book?

Jonathan Glazer: It’s like a second life, yes. It’s interesting what you say. That’s how I felt too when I heard the news. We learned that Martin Amis was seriously ill a few weeks before Cannes and we have been in contact with his wife since then. We were able to get Martin Amis a copy of the film so he could see it. But yes, it’s a very strange coincidence.

Euronews: This is your first film in 10 years (Under the Skin). I guess it took us this long to embrace a story like this…

Jonathan Glazer: It is true. This is definitely what happened to me with this project, I had to take the time I needed. You can’t take something like this lightly. I think I spent the first couple of years reading, actually, before I even knew what I was going to do or anything else. I simply read and imagined. It’s such a huge topic and I also needed to understand why or what attracted me to the topic, why that’s what happened. The subject and heart of the story come from you, you don’t get there. Then I tried to figure out what I felt I could do. Seeing what I had never seen before, with a different point of view, a different perspective. Why is it so important that this story be told again and again by and for every generation. I hope that one day we won’t have to tell it again, but sadly that day hasn’t come yet. Then, when I read Martin’s book, I saw that he had written a book from the point of view of the protagonists. For me, that was the key to my perspective and direction.

Euronews: “The Zone of Interest” is a film that dares to make aesthetic and narrative choices, in music, photography and editing. Did you want to make a decidedly contemporary film?

Jonathan Glazer: Yes exactly. I wanted to make a film about now. I had no interest in making a film about this subject that you could easily leave saying to yourself, “That happened a long time ago. It doesn’t concern us anymore.” But is not so. The story is set in the final years of the war, but the Auschwitz camp, as well as the house and garden in which the film is set, were still new, a few years old at most. The camp was five years old and I mean everything was new. These were new buildings that had just been built. I wanted to kind of match it, recreate it, and then find a way to film it with a 21st century lens, really. To portray this story as something current, something recent.

Euronews: With this setting and this model family, you essentially show the banality of evil as conceptualized by Hannah Arendt. And is this evil completely off the screen in your film?

Jonathan Glazer: Exactly. The horror is off screen. I think people are less affected, or perhaps desensitized, to certain images that we’ve all seen. I certainly didn’t want to recreate that image. I didn’t want to reproduce them in any way. It wasn’t the right thing for me to do. And I don’t think that’s the right thing to do in this context. But I knew the sound would bring that dimension. As I began to work further, from an evocative perspective, I realized that sound was essential and that it would cement the film and make us aware of the horror that was being perpetrated. Sound has the power to do this.

Euronews: There is also the central Nazi family couple, played by Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel, two German actors. What were the instructions you gave them to play such despicable characters?

ANNOUNCEMENT

Jonathan Glazer: It was very interesting. Sandra is obviously a fantastic actress and played the role of Hedwig Höss perfectly. And also physically, to the point of resembling her. Also Christian Friedel, with a more interior, quieter, but still very sensitive performance. It’s very strange, but I chose them based on what I understood about the characters they played, the people they represented. So my job was to fade into the background and make people forget that we were there with the whole technical crew. So the house became theirs, it was big and we could let them evolve without us being there physically. We filmed, of course, and saw on the monitor how things were going, but above all I wanted them to immerse themselves in their role and their environment, to ultimately live like their characters, in the present, without having to worry about all the cinematic paraphernalia and to evolve in their home before our eyes. We didn’t use extra lights or any other tricks. Above all, we wanted this film to be as authorless as possible.

Interview by Frédéric Ponsard.

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