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Zone of Interest's Horrors, Seen and Unseen 

click to enlarge Just smoking and being mad at Taylor Swift.

The Zone of Interest

Just smoking and being mad at Taylor Swift.

THE ZONE OF INTEREST. Presented with the briefest description of this, e.g. a glimpse inside the domestic life of the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, one's mind might immediately go to Hannah Arendt's commentary regarding the "banality of evil." Which is a reasonable leap, as that phrase has so frequently come into use when describing the institutionalization of unspeakable acts. Especially in a case like this, when the viewer is so directly confronted with the corporate machinery of mass murder, with the generally dispassionate mien of the men enacting the hideous designs of other dispassionate men, that viewer (but also the makers of the work) could easily fall into the trap of dismissiveness. A betrayal on the scale of the Holocaust so confounds the imagination that it becomes almost impossible to parse. And so, one can be forgiven for attributing otherworldly, demonic traits to the perpetrators, while also diminishing the actions of the individual by allowing Adolf Eichmann's asinine notion of "doing one's job" to creep in. In such a construction, one is left with a self-contradictory, over-simplified version of events that precludes having to consider the broad spectrum of (in)human impulse that actually builds to and allows cataclysmic destruction on the largest scale.

The great genius of Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest — technically adapted from Martin Amis' 2014 novel, but I presume Glazer has taken great liberties — is in confronting us so directly, so frequently with aural and visual manifestations of the collective cognitive dissonance that is our perception of the Holocaust, that we cannot make easy sense of it.

From context, we can gather that the events of the film take place between 1943 and 1944, mostly within the tranquil environs of the beautifully appointed Höss home in occupied Poland. Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), the lady of the house, takes great pride in her family and her remodeling projects, having reshaped an open field into an abundant garden, replete with swimming pool and slide for her lively brood. And every day, her husband rides from his dooryard on horseback into the gates of the concentration camp he oversees. They celebrate birthdays and entertain guests, meanwhile dressing in clothes plundered from the imprisoned and tuning out the gunshots and screams and barking dogs just beyond their garden wall.

Glazer (Sexy Beast, 2000; Birth, 2004; Under the Skin, 2014), with cinematographer Lucasz Zal and a truly remarkable sound department, bring us impossibly close to the interior of the life of the Höss family, filling the building and grounds with cameras just as the soundtrack is filled with punishing ambient noise. The result is something both formalistic and definitively avant-garde, an impeccably detailed historical drama that transcends simple description in the methodology and aesthetic brutality in its approach.

Much of life as described within the movie is banal, to be sure, but it is frequently punctuated by reminders — chilling, fiery and indelible — of the fact that the commission of unspeakable acts was not carried out by mere functionaries. Rather, those in positions of nominal or significant power — like Rudolf and, by extension, Hedwig — embrace the task at hand with pride and self-importance. Rudolf may be trying to climb the corporate ladder, to be a good executive and a good soldier, but he is also the bringer of a hell on Earth, a devourer, a death merchant and a family man. His type was (is) not unique and is all the more virulent for its mundanity: He relishes success as defined by structures of power, as that success defines and elevates him with its noxious liquors.

Glazer does not bring the audience inside the walls of the camp, (at least until a quick flash-forward to the present-day), does not subject us to recreations of atrocity. But his technique is perhaps all the crueler for that omission. Were we to witness the acts implied and overheard, we might more readily process or understand our own feelings, or at least contextualize them in some satisfying, if unpleasant way. Instead, we are both within and without the truth, where contextualizing is essentially impossible.

The production recreates the reality of the day-to-day in granular detail, as the actors immerse themselves so fully in this lived horror that the queasy feeling with which we are left is of witnessing reality retold, rather than reimagined. For all its consummate technique, for the frightening balance of technical skill and unwavering narrative honesty, The Zone of Interest succeeds mightily as an examination of the impossible to understand. It delivers nothing reassuring or comforting, except that someday everything will end. But it does it with such mastery and fineness that I already feel the overwhelming need to see it again.

In its way, this is horror and history as modern art. There has never been anything like it except the events it describes; we should be grateful for both presence and absence. PG13. 105M. MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.


AMERICAN FICTION. A Black novelist (Jeffrey Wright) finds publishing success with a book he's facetiously filled with the racist stereotypes and tropes he despises. R. 117M. BROADWAY, MINOR.

ANYONE BUT YOU. Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell try to make their exes jealous in a destination wedding rom-com. R. 103M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM. Jason Momoa dons his trunks for his last dip in the DC franchise. 115M. PG13. BROADWAY.

ARGYLLE. Action comedy about a spy novelist (Bryce Dallas Howard) embroiled in espionage involving a cat. PG13. 139M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE BEEKEEPER. Apiary actioner starring Jason Statham as a secret agent bent on revenge. R. 105M. BROADWAY.

THE BOY AND THE HERON. Hayao Miyazaki animated adventure about a boy who travels beyond the veil to see his mother. PG13. 125M. MILL CREEK (DUB).

THE BOYS IN THE BOAT. True-story drama about a university crew team headed for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. PG13. 124M. BROADWAY.

THE CHOSEN. Season 4, episodes 1-3. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

DUNE: PART ONE (2021). The first leg of the epic sci-fi adaptation on the cusp of its sequel. 156M. PG13. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

FIGHTER. Indian Air Force action movie with aviators and dance numbers. NR. 106M. BROADWAY.

LISA FRANKENSTEIN. Horror-comedy in which girl meets corpse, corpse is reanimated. Starring Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse. PG13. 101M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

MEAN GIRLS (2024). Tina Fey's iconic comedy about girl-on-girl violence gets an update. PG13. 112M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

MIGRATION. Animated duck adventure voiced by Elizabeth Banks, Awkwafina and Keegan-Michael Key. PG. 92M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

POOR THINGS. The life and times of a resurrected young woman (Emma Stone). With Willem Dafoe and Mark Ruffalo. R. 141M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

WONKA. Timothée Chalamet brings his bone structure to the candy man's origin story. With Hugh Grant in Oompa-Loompa mode. PG. 112M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

Fortuna Theatre is temporarily closed. For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema (707) 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre (707) 822-3456.

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