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HomeMoviesA Holocaust drama about the banality of evil : NPR

A Holocaust drama about the banality of evil : NPR


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Sandra Hüller performs a mom who lives subsequent door to Auschwitz in The Zone of Curiosity.


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Sandra Hüller performs a mom who lives subsequent door to Auschwitz in The Zone of Curiosity.


The Zone of Curiosity begins on a beautiful afternoon someplace within the Polish countryside. A husband and spouse are having fun with a picnic on the banks of a river with their 5 kids; they eat lunch after which splash round within the sunshine. All of it appears to be like so peaceable, so inviting. However one thing appears surprisingly amiss as soon as the household returns residence.

They reside in an exquisite villa with an unlimited backyard, a greenhouse and a small swimming pool. However earlier than lengthy, odd particulars intrude into the body, just like the lengthy concrete wall, edged with barbed wire, and the ominous-looking buildings behind it. And nearly each scene is underscored by a low, unceasing metallic drone, which typically mixes with the sounds of human screams, canine barks and gunshots.

It is 1943, and this household lives subsequent door to Auschwitz. The husband, performed by a chillingly calm Christian Friedel, is the camp commandant Rudolf Höss, who’s remembered now as the person who made Auschwitz the one most effective killing machine in the course of the Holocaust.

However director Jonathan Glazer by no means brings us contained in the camp or depicts any of the atrocities we’re used to seeing in motion pictures in regards to the topic. As an alternative, he grounds his story within the quotidian rhythms of the Hösses’ life, observing them over a number of months as they go about their routine whereas an enormous equipment of dying grinds away subsequent door.

Within the mornings, Rudolf rides a horse from his yard as much as the gates of Auschwitz — the world’s shortest, ghastliest commute. His spouse, Hedwig, performed by Sandra Hüller (from Anatomy of a Fall), may sip espresso along with her buddies. At one level, she slips into her bed room to strive on a fur coat; it takes a beat to understand that the coat was taken from a Jewish lady on her method to the gasoline chambers.

We see their kids go off to high school or play within the backyard, and a few of their extra violent roughhousing suggests they know what is going on on round them. At evening, the fiery smoke from the crematorium chimneys sends a hazy orange gentle into the bed room home windows; it is a film that makes you marvel, fairly actually, how these individuals managed to sleep at evening.

Glazer and his cinematographer, Łukasz Żal, shot the film on location close to the camp, in a meticulous reproduction of the Hösses’ actual home. They used tiny cameras that had been so effectively hidden the actors could not see them; in consequence, a lot of what we see has the eerie high quality of surveillance footage, observing the characters from an nearly medical take away.

In its icy precision, Glazer’s film jogged my memory of the Austrian director Michael Haneke, whose movies, like Caché and The White Ribbon, are sometimes in regards to the violence simmering beneath well-maintained home surfaces. It additionally performs like a companion-piece to Glazer’s good 2013 sci-fi thriller, Below the Pores and skin, which was additionally, in its manner, in regards to the complete absence of empathy.

Largely, although, The Zone of Curiosity brings to thoughts Hannah Arendt’s well-known line about “the banality of evil,” which she coined whereas writing about Adolf Eichmann, considered one of Höss’ Third Reich associates. In a single plot flip drawn from actual life, Rudolf is finally transferred to a brand new submit in Germany; Hedwig is livid and insists on staying at Auschwitz with the kids, claiming, “That is the life we have all the time dreamed of” — a line that chills you to the bone. In these moments, the film performs like a really, very darkish comedy about marriage and striving: Have a look at what this couple is prepared to do, the film says, of their want for the nice life.

Right here I ought to word that The Zone of Curiosity was loosely tailored from a 2014 novel by the late Martin Amis, which featured a number of subplots and characters, together with a Jewish prisoner contained in the camp. However Glazer has pared almost all this away, to terribly highly effective impact. He is clearly thought quite a bit in regards to the ethics of Holocaust illustration, and he has no real interest in staging or re-creating what we have already seen numerous instances earlier than. What he leaves us with is a void, a way of the horrible nothingness that the banality of evil has left behind.


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