“Zone of Interest”: A Haunting Look at Holocaust Banality Through a Nazi Family’s Eyes

To focus on the Jewish Holocaust, every film creator has to face the same two questions: First, how many ways of presenting the story of the Holocaust are there that have not been exhausted by predecessors? Secondly, how to find the one that is most in line with the creator’s intention and the most ethical among the few remaining options?

Holocaust storytelling is an area where the risks are as high as the rewards. It can easily agitate the audience’s senses and emotions, and it can also easily fall into ethical traps. After all, not all creators are determined to resist the temptation to manipulate the audience’s historical perception of the Holocaust in a way that simplifies or even distorts the facts, nor are all creators capable of identifying the differences between spontaneous emotions and deliberate sensationalism. There’s a fine line between serious reflection and smugness.

For this reason, in the history of film, attempts to recreate the story of the Holocaust in feature films have more or less triggered criticism from academics, critics and critical audiences. From “Zero Ground” to “Schindler’s List”, from “Life is Beautiful” to “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, all of them are high-quality commercial films that have made audiences cry, but all of them have been criticized by critical critics. Harsh criticism, but their criticism is not entirely unreasonable. In the face of horrific atrocities that are unimaginable and unspeakable for most humans, any attempt to simplify the historical background, any attempt to dig out chicken soup in the dark, may distort the audience’s proper understanding of history. You know, it will eventually deviate from the original warning intention of the creator.

The above-mentioned thorny issues can explain why most of the films that are recognized by the world as masterpieces about the Holocaust are documentaries (such as “Night and Fog” and “Shoah”) that do not try to use fictional narratives to reconstruct history. They can also explain why for the For a feature film about the Holocaust, perspective and method are the two most important things. When making such a feature film, the moral stance of the creator and his or her cinematic presentation of ethical appeals are far more important than telling a moving story. Perhaps this is why Spielberg, who is good at using Hollywood narrative methods, was scolded by European intellectuals for “Schindler’s List”. Hungarian director Laszlo Naimai, who knows little about genre film routines, Shi, was able to win unanimous praise from the intellectual community with his first feature film “Son of Saul”, which has clumsy narrative techniques but unique angles and is extremely ideologically conscious.

After doing so much preparation, we can finally talk about “Zone of Interest”. This is a very strange movie: the director, producer and original author are British, but the leading actors are all Germans. It was shot in Poland and directed by Polish people. It eventually won the Oscar for Best in the United States. Nominated for film, best director and best adapted screenplay. What a strange journey.

In terms of style, “Zone of Interest” is completely different not only from all the Holocaust-themed movies we have seen, but also from most feature films we have seen. Rather than telling a story, this movie is more about recreating a specific space in a specific time context. In this space, we see elegant and chic bungalows, courtyards, gardens, swimming pools and family picnics that represent the middle-class lifestyle, but what we hear are the heartbreaking words of the victims of Auschwitz coming from outside the space. A lung-breaking scream.

To be more specific, “Zone of Interest”, which is set in 1943, sets the camera in a house across the wall from Auschwitz, allowing the audience to interact with the camp commander Rudolf Hoss, his His wife, Hedvig Hoss, and their four children experience the family’s pastoral and peaceful life. They went on outings, camping, and had dinners with friends and relatives; they worked hard to cultivate this homeland, planting more than ten kinds of flowers on the ground, finely renovating the original ordinary house, and building a swimming pool and greenhouse in the originally crude backyard. Hitler once advocated for Nazi party members to move eastward and take root in nature during the war. This is exactly what Rudolf and Hedwig were practicing. When Rudolf was transferred out of Auschwitz, Hedwig firmly refused to move with him: “Here is the life where our dreams come true. It is the best place to raise children… This is our home. If we want to Let me go, unless you drag me out!”

But what kind of “wonderland zone” is this? Yes, everything is peaceful and beautiful in the center of our vision, but at the edges of our vision and within the reach of our hearing, evidence of atrocities is everywhere. As the Hoss family picnics, smoke billows from the concentration camp chimneys in the background; while the Hoss children play with their toy trains, the real train that transported hundreds of Jews to the concentration camp roars on the soundtrack; a visit to Hedwig After his mother went to bed at night, she was disturbed by the industrial noise of the incinerator just outside the wall, the screams of concentration camp victims, the irregular sound of gunshots, and the firelight that filled the night sky. What a terrifying place this “zone of interest” is in nature! Why could Rudolf and Hedwig turn a blind eye to this?

This leads to the film’s prosecution theme: some people can indeed turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering of similar people around them. They not only exist in Nazi Germany, but also live in the present. “Zone of Interest” recently won the British Academy Film Award for Best Non-English Film. Producer James Wilson made a deafening call on the podium: “Although this film focuses on the suffering of the Jews, We should not turn a blind eye to the suffering of anyone in the world – we should care about the innocent people killed in Gaza and Yemen as much as we care about the innocent people killed in Ukraine and Israel.” The filmmaker’s character has been lost for a long time.

Returning to the film itself, “Zone of Interest” is an audio-visual installation suitable for being placed in an art museum; compared with the story, the creative method used by director Jonathan Glazer itself is more the focus of the film. The film’s sound effects and soundtrack are impeccable, and the visual aspect adopts a kind of impersonal surveillance shooting method: Glazer hid cameras throughout the house, allowing the actors to freely perform uninterrupted performances, while he was in the basement. Observe and make final choices during the editing stage.

These creative freedoms given by the director ultimately give the right to interpret the work to the audience: the film does not give any direct evidence about the Holocaust, and what conclusions can be deduced from the indirect information given by the film completely depends on the viewer. Established knowledge of the events of the Holocaust.

It has to be said that Glazer’s choice to place the camera on the other side of the Auschwitz concentration camp wall, thus placing the audience on the same side as the Nazi war criminals, was an out-and-out risky move, and it finally paid off . We can recognize ourselves in Rudolf and Hedwig’s mediocre dreams of social advancement and their blindness to sin. We are not made of different materials than those we call demons, and the line between us and the darkest and worst evil has never been clear-cut.

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