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You can read everything about The Zone of Interest without spoiling the experience of watching it. It’s a film without many surprises, though it is surprising. It takes the audience through an excursion, asking us to quietly observe and apply our knowledge of history and humanity. I can tell you everything that happens in this film, which won’t hinder your opinion. The only reason I won’t is because nothing I can write can be as impactful as the images and sounds of this picture.

Based on Martin Amis’ novel, The Zone of Interest recounts a slice of life in the daily routine of Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller). They live with their children in an idyllic country house that shares a wall with the concentration camp. With no context, everything in the Höss’s life is a perfect picture of a dream family – well-behaved, happy children, a beautiful countryside in front of them with a pristine river. But we know what’s going on behind that wall, and even though we’re never shown, director Jonathan Glazer constantly reminds us the price being paid.

Glazer adds an element in almost every shot without making too much of it. A chimney in the background spouting white smoke, a train arriving off-screen, guards shouting, guns going off. Glazer doesn’t show the violence but never lets us forget about it. It gives a disturbing sense of oppression, makes you shout at the screen how can they live like that knowing what is happening, questioning what the lights are that don’t let them sleep at night, or the sound of the gunshots.

He never humanises the Höss family though. Rudolf is a dedicated workaholic who looks at his job – managing a place where one of the worst crimes committed against humanity was perpetrated – as a matter-of-fact task. His wife isn’t sympathetic to anything but the picturesque place she’s building for her family. At some point, she tells one of her maids (a Jewish girl) what her husband can do to her if she doesn’t do a good job. Later, Rudolf is given a task in a different camp. Hedwig asks to stay behind. She’d rather live next to Auschwitz.

This is one of Glazer’s fourth feature in a career that started 24 years ago with Sexy Beast. He is one of those rare filmmakers who goes for as much style as substance. His films are atmospheric, almost hypnotic, with an unrelentless, almost disturbing quietness. Sound has always been a crucial aspect of his picture, but this is the first time anything like this has ever been done. Sound designers Tarn Willers and Johnnie Burn created one of the most impressive soundscapes I’ve heard in a film theatre. Layered but crisp, it’s like they wanted you to hear everything you cannot see and let your memory and knowledge fill in the gaps of what the images don’t show; all helped by the sparse but distressing soundtrack courtesy of Glazer’s frequent collaborator, Mica Levi. It deserves to be experienced on the big screen; let the film really involve you until you cannot bear it.

Two times, Glazer steps away from the Hoss family to show us a little subplot about one of the maids as she goes out at night to leave food and messages to the Jewish workers. The scenes set in the darkest hour of night are shot with a gruelling night vision that almost makes it look like we’re experiencing a different reality – one of hope that can only exist in the dark of night. This is followed by a gorgeous moment of humanity, like the little lonely flower in Picasso’s Guernica. The maid collects a message from one of the workers that includes a music sheet. Later, during the day, she plays the song on the piano with the lyrics appearing on screen to reveal that she’s playing Joseph Wulf’s Sunbeams, which he famously composed while incarcerated in Auschwitz. It’s a peaceful detail that reminds us of music and harmony on the other side.

I’ve read several reviews that The Zone of Interest is about the banality of evil, and I couldn’t disagree more. There’s nothing ordinary about this; it’s just pure evil. And it’s heightened by the awareness that this is about the acceptance, the reasoning of evil. For a while, we thought showing the atrocities would be more welcoming and easier to understand than seeing a family having a garden party. How did we get here? Glazer directs his light at us humans with such fierceness it’s almost dizzying. The Hösses didn’t think they were evil – no one does – but they had found a logic to their actions that let them accept and continue without thinking twice about the suffering inflicted.

The alarming idea is that Glazer doesn’t want The Zone of Interest to be specifically about the holocaust, but an alarming thought that evil still exists today. He puts a mirror in front of the audience to ask if this applies to us or if we are complicit in any shape or form. There is a sequence later in the film where other camp commanders meet like they are having a dull board of directors meeting. After it, Rudolf loses his way, and in a strange moment, he looks into a future where Auschwitz is a memorial of the atrocities – where his role is remembered as a vile stain on the human race. And then he leaves, unconcerned by that vision.

Glazer pointed out several times that his films are about “the capacity for violence we all have”and that they resonate with the present as much as they remember and reckon with the past. When the film won the BAFTA for “Best Film Not in the English Language”, producer Jim Wilson said: “A friend wrote to me after seeing the film that he couldn’t stop thinking about the walls we construct in our lives, which we choose not to look behind. Those walls aren’t new, from before, during or since the holocaust. And it seems stark, right now, that we should care about innocent people being killed in Gaza or Yemen in the same way we think about innocent people being killed in Mariupol or in Israel, or anywhere else in the world”.

Verdict: 5 out of 5
Unrelenting, intense and necessary. The Zone of Interest may be one of the most important artistic statements of the decade.