All the Standout Movies We’ve Seen at New York Film Festival This Year

Poor Things, May December, The Boy and the Heron, and more hotly anticipated films, reviewed here.


The Zone of Interest

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The Zone of Interest
Image: A24

The Zone of Interest, the first feature by Jonathan Glazer since 2013’s Under the Skin, is a tricky thing to recommend. A portrait of Auschwitz unlike any you’ve seen before, it’s massively disturbing while being really calm about it. As a result, the movie’s tone is in harmony with the affect of its principal character Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), who’s based on the real-life commandant of Auschwitz of the same name—in the film he calmly discusses the camps’ “yield” and the practicals of exterminating 400 to 500 Jews in one go. Höss, who adopted the pesticide Zyklon B for use in the gas chambers and at one point claimed to have overseen the deaths of some 3 million Jews, was not named in the 2014 Martin Amis novel Glazer’s movie is based on, though he is widely believed to have inspired Amis’ character of Paul Doll. In his adaptation of Amis’ adaptation of real life, Glazer renames the character after its inspiration.

The murders are relegated the background of Zone. We see a train’s steam on the horizon, over the gate of Höss’ mansion whose in-ground pool shares a wall with the concentration camp; we hear ambient screams during closeups on flowers in Höss’ perfectly manicured garden. The context, so big and terrible that it’s a struggle to wrap your head around it, is everything here, a rotted backdrop to the pseudo-domestic bliss of Höss and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller, whose big year also includes starring in the Cannes winner Anatomy of a Fall). “Rudolf calls me the Queen of Auschwitz,” she brags. She buys a full-length fur stolen from an imprisoned Jew, and her friend (presumably another military wife) boasts about finding a diamond in her toothpaste. When Höss receives word of his imminent transfer to another camp, Hedwig throws a fit, causing him to write a letter begging that his family be allowed to stay in their beautiful home that is within spitting distance of mass human extermination. “I must stress what a wonderful environment Hedda is creating for the children,” he writes with no seeming irony.

The Zone of Interest manages to be simultaneously still and nauseating, and is even more nauseating for its stillness. It’s the type of punishing viewing that Michael Haneke likes to exact on his viewers, and in fact, Zone’s effective use of mundanity as a method of underscoring despair brought nothing as much as Haneke’s debut, The Seventh Continent, to mind. Zone is a Holocaust movie through and through, but its modern analogies are impossible to ignore. It reflects back at us the familiar disparity that occurs when luxury rubs elbows with poverty in the close-quarters living within major cities. It reminded me a bit of home. Devastating.

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