"I admired Zone of Interest from a distance more than I loved it."

A Little Too Much Banality in the Mix

(030124) Zone of Interest is a critically heralded political drama full of intrigue that was a big hit at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Grand Prix. The film has gotten extraordinarily positive rave and even Steven Spielberg himself said it was the best take on the Holocaust since Schindler’s List. It also placed in the Top 10 of the prestigious Film Comment 2024 film critics’ poll getting more votes than: The Boy and His Heron, Poor Things, Barbie, or Oppenheimer. Additionally it has received Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best International Feature Film, as well as Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Sound nom's. The Oscar voters were obviously more impressed than I was perhaps because of its high ambition and weighty subject matter. Frankly, I would have rather seen either Witness for the Prosecution, Judgment at Nuremberg or even Life is Beautiful again.

I can see why people admire it and although it is certainly worth seeing, the film does not match the quality of some of this year’s other Best Picture or Best International Oscar contenders such as
Oppenheimer, Past Lives, Poor Things, Fallen Leaves or Perfect Days. I admired Zone of Interest from a distance more than I loved it, agreeing with The Guardians Peter Bradshaw: “that it is a film for all its artistry is perhaps not entirely in control of its Intentional bad taste.”  The film is made by a British film maker as a co-production between the UK and Poland. It represents the UK as the Best International Film nominee while the Polish entry Teacher’s Lounge is a more fulfilling cinematic experience. Should a film that is only partially in English qualify for entry in either of these categories? I am not sure.

Based on a best-selling novel by Martin Amis, Zone of Interest is the second feature by Jonathan Glazer who won over critics with Under the Skin, the creepy Twilight Zone influenced film starring Scarlett Johansson (in perhaps her best film). That was a far more stylistically appealing and effective film than this one, however both films feature strong performances by their female leads. Zone showcases a superior performance by Sandra Huller, a top-notch German actress who has been in over twenty-five features including the excellent Amour Fou and the intriguing Toni Erdmann, which also earned a best International Film Oscar nomination. She has had an excellent year, also starring in
Anatomy of a Fall which was also nominated for multiple Oscar categories including Best Picture.

Zone of Interest begins with an idyllic, tranquil scene in which a picture-perfect family is engaged in picnic activities on a summer day. They engage in such everyday pursuits such as taking a swim and comforting their beloved baby who is crying. The family is comprised of Rudolph Hoss (Christopher Friedel), his wife Hedrick (Sandra Huller), and their five children. The first hint that something was amiss is when we see that their houses are located right near Auschwitz. Despite his friendly and normal demeanor, Christopher Friedel’s character-Rudolf Hoss, is based on the real life mass murderer, who was the commander at Auschwitz and directly oversaw the extermination of huge groups of Jews. We don’t see the murders directly, and his character act in the film likes they are just the cause of minor inconvenience. He gets irritated that he must have his kids move their boat because there are too may human remains in the water.

What is truly chilling about the film is how the outwardly normal the Hoss Family appears. Rudolph spends so much of his time on banal pursuits can compartmentalize his life acting as a loving father in one scene while he orders mass killings in his work. His life illustrating what philosopher Hanna Arendt called “the banality of evil.” His wife’s behavior is just as disturbing in its own way and she has a great propensity for ignoring the suffering as others. In one horrific scene she calmly picks the most attractive clothes from a pile of garments that were worn by murdered Jews. This is all reminiscent of the great scene in The Godfather in which we see Michael Corleone’s enemies gunned down at his command at the same time he is serving as godfather at a baptism. The cold commander and his wife never show even a temporary remorse for living off the Holocaust. While thousands of Jews are being made into rope or soap, their biggest concern is how terrible it would be if the military would send the husband somewhere else and the family was uprooted.

Even though they act like everything is normal, the Nazi family members have also been desensitized and psychologically scarred as well. Sometimes when he is daydreaming Rudolf fantasizes about gassing his coworkers. Hedwig thinks about whether she should spread her servant’s ashes in a garden. When they are playing the kids even pretend to gas each other. Their participation in the genocide has long lasting and damaging effects on the family members that the characters do not recognizes but we do. The film portrayal of the Hoss family has broader applications beyond the Holocaust. The married couple could be anyone who has traded their souls in for prosperity and convenience. The film made me think of how some politicians here would throw immigrants on the fire to get a few more votes or cash in on xenophobia in other ways.

What helps make the film unique are the black and white scenes using thermal imaging of a young girl carrying apples but we never can be sure who she is as she passes through the film like a momentary dream image. But if she is Jewish, we must fear what might have eventually happened to her.

Critics have been making grandiose pronouncements about the film’s originality and greatness as if this is the first time an artwork showed the banality of evil or explored the lackadaisical way that the people accept horrific events. But a remarkably similar statement was made better in a work from another medium in the graphic novel, V for Vendetta and that work is arguably superior to this film in every way. Perhaps mainstream media undervalues it because many still think of comics as a disposable and disreputable genre.

Zone of Interest is a good film but it does have flaws. I often felt the film was unnecessarily saying the same thing over and over. Also, the dispassionate and coldly clinical tone of Zone of Interest did not always work for me. I did not feel especially emotionally connected to anyone in the film which was probably the film maker’s intention. Dave Cronenberg’s films such as Crimes of the Future are just as coldly dispassionate, but I think they have more to stimulate the intellect. I know and appreciate what Zone of Interest was trying to do that but it doesn’t make me like it more.

Directed by:    Jonathan Glazer
Written by:    Screenplay by Jonathan Glazer, Based on the
 book The Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
Starring:    Christopher Friedel, Sandra Huller
Released:    102/15/2024 (wide)
Length:    105 minutes
Rating:    PG 13 for thematic material, involving racism,
 violence and suggestive material and smoking
Available On:     At press time it’s playing at selected Chicago
 area theatres and it is available on various
 streaming formats including YouTube, Google
 Play, Vudu and Amazon Prime.

 In German, Yiddish, and English with English

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to and His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Mister Carli will conduct the upcoming lecture: "The Complete Character is Nowhere: The Evolution of Frankenstein and His Monster In Films, Comics and Songs" on Wednesday, March 6th, noon-12:50pm, at Moraine Valley Library Lounge (Building L) or streaming eventually on YouTube.

Come to the New Poetry Show on the first Saturday of every month at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 7-9 at 3324 South Halsted.
This is now a monthly show featuring Poetry/Spoken Word, some Music, Stand Up and Performance Art and hosted by Mister Carli. For more information e-mail: for details

Upcoming features at the Poetry Show:
March 2- Gregorio Gomez, Bob Lawrence, Daina Popp, and Donna Voyeur
April 6- Esenia Banuelos, Charles Haddad, and others to be announced.
May 4-Richard Experience
Coming Up Soon: Don Hargraves

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