An early favorite of the Cannes film festival is Jonathan Glazer’s Zone of Interest, which had a warm audience reception and glowing reviews out of its Friday night premiere. The film is loosely adapted from the Martin Amis novel of the same that tells the story of Rudolf Höss, the camp commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp and his family living as they live a bucolic life just over the wall.
“You never really know why you tackle any subject. This is not something I planned. It’s an ever-evolving journey. I certainly have had the subject in mind for many years,” said writer-director Glazer, whose works include Sexy Beast, Birth, and Under the Skin, during the film’s press conference. Saying that two years after the release of his last feature Under the Skin he was reading about the Holocaust and eventually visited Auschwitz: “It was a very profound week in our life.”
Glazer said that he began to think about the wall that surrounded the camp, saying, “that wall became a manifestation of what we tell ourselves. We compartmentalize for our own convenience.” The filmmaker worked with researchers who went through survivor testimonies, who provided the filmmaker with any mention of the Höss family. Production designer Chris Oddy visited Auschwitz and the Höss home, and did intense archival work, largely limited to black-and-white photos.
The film, which will be released by A24 in the U.S. after its in-competition premiere at Cannes, received a glowing reception at its Cannes premiere, with a long-standing ovation. “At this point it doesn’t seem a stretch to say that Jonathan Glazer is incapable of making a movie that’s anything less than bracingly original,” reads The Hollywood Reporter‘s review of the film. “The worst thing you could say about the director is that for such a singular talent, he’s frustratingly unprolific.”
Lead actress Sandra Hüller, best known for her role in Toni Erdman, said that playing the role of the wife of a Nazi officer was “never about being good at something or doing something extraordinary. It didn’t have anything to do with ambition at all.” She added: “I never really felt familiar with her but, at the same time, I felt that there was no real way to do it right.”
Glazer was asked about releasing Zone of Interest in light of the worldwide uptick in antisemitism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacy. “What it’s trying to do is talk to the human capacity for violence, wherever you are from. Just [trying to] show these people as people and not as monsters was a very important thing to do because the great crime and tragedy is that human beings did this to other human beings,” said the director. “It’s very convenient for us to try to distance ourselves from them but I think we should be less certain than that.”
Glazer recalled a conversation with his own father where they discussed the possibility of making a film about Auschwitz. His father told Glazer to “let it rot,” or leave it in the past. The filmmaker countered, “It’s very important we do keep talking about it, to try to make it as familiar as we can.” He added: “This is not a museum piece. It needed to be presented with a degree of urgency and alarm.”