A powerful Auschwitz-set psychological horror film, The Zone of Interest, is emerging as the hot ticket at the Cannes Film Festival, with reviews Saturday were near-unanimous in their praise.
British director Jonathan Glazer’s film focuses on the family of Rudolf Hoess, the longest-serving commandant of the Auschwitz camp, who lived a stone’s throw from the incinerators.
While the screams and gunshots are audible from their beautiful garden, the family carries on as though nothing was amiss.
The horror “is just bearing down on every pixel of every shot, in sound and how we interpret that sound… It affects everything but them,” Glazer told AFP.
“Everything had to be very carefully calibrated to feel that it was always there, this ever-present, monstrous machinery,” he said.
The 58-year-old Glazer, who is Jewish, focused on the banality of daily lives around the death camp, viewing Hoess’s family not as obvious monsters but as terrifyingly ordinary.
“The things that drive these people are familiar. Nice house, nice garden, healthy kids,” he said.
“How like them are we? How terrifying it would be to acknowledge? What is it that we’re so frightened of understanding?”
“Would it be possible to sleep? Could you sleep? What happens if you close the curtains and you wear earplugs, could you do that?”
The film is all the more uncomfortable as it is shot in a realist style, with natural lighting and none of the frills that are typical of a period drama.
It has garnered gushing praise so far from critics at the French Riviera festival.
A “bone-chilling Holocaust drama like no other,” The Hollywood Reporter said of the “audacious film,” concluding that Glazer “is incapable of making a movie that’s anything less than bracingly original.”
Variety said that Glazer had “delivered the first instant sensation of the festival,” describing it as “profound, meditative and immersive, a movie that holds human darkness up to the light and examines it as if under a microscope.”
‘I cogitate a lot’
Glazer is known for taking his time — it has been a decade since his last film, the acclaimed, deeply strange sci-fi Under the Skin starring Scarlett Johansson.
He made his name with music videos for Radiohead, Blur and Massive Attack in the 1990s before moving into films with Sexy Beast (2000) and Birth (2004).
“I cogitate a lot. I think a lot about what I’m going to make, good or bad,” he said.
“This particular subject obviously is a vast, profound topic and deeply sensitive for many reasons and I couldn’t just approach it casually.”
A novel of the same title by Martin Amis was one catalyst for bringing him to this project.
It provided “a key that unlocked some space for me… the enormous discomfort of being in the room with the perpetrator.”
He spent two years reading other books and accounts on the subject before beginning to map out the film with collaborators.
Glazer’s film is one of 21 in competition for the Palme d’Or, the top prize at Cannes, which runs until May 27.
French reviewers were equally impressed by Glazer’s film, with Le Figaro calling it “a chilling film with dizzying impact” and Liberation saying it could well take home the Palme.