Before reviewing Zone of Interest, my mind goes back to all those writing classes I once took. My teachers hated the word interest and its variation, “interesting” as bland and not definitive. “Interesting” as in bad? Or as in “just fine,” or as in “not good?” Nazis took the German variation of interest—interessegebeit--and used it to soften and disguise one of the harshest realities of their world, the area around the Auschwitz concentration camp. Filmmaker Jonathan Glazer sees the irony in that euphemism and takes it as the title of his film adapted from a 2014 novel by Martin Amis. Glazer’s screenplay focuses on the disparity between the happy family living just outside the prison, blithely going about a sun-dappled world of pretty scenery and pleasant afternoons. The family belongs to Rudolf Höss, the real-life camp commandant from 1940 to 1943. Glazer adds his own research to the film, joining production designer Chris Oddy in recreating the buildings, home, and sense of what the zone looked like in the 1940s. Performers Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller not only look the part of a professionally and personally satisfied couple, they act with an every-day naturalness that comes off as frightening under the circumstances. Glazer’s approach includes using strategically placed cameras that catch routine activities like setting a table with a no rush attitude; life seems perfectly normal and a bit slow. As a result, the movie itself feels slow, harder to watch than enjoy. Yet Z
deserves admiration, respect for taking a different approach to a difficult subject. So yes, even before the film earned five Oscar nominations, I watched the movie with interest—not pleasure, but with appreciation for the point and risk it takes.