The Zone of Interest: Jonathon Glazer Comes of Age

Dur­ing the 1990s, a cohort of direc­tors emerged to team up with some of the more ambi­tious indie bands and brands to pro­duce a wave of ground-break­ing music videos and ads. 

Spike Jonze, David Finch­er, Mark Romanek, Michel Gondry and Chris Cun­ning­ham made music videos for, respec­tive­ly, the Beast­ie Boys (Sab­o­tage), George Michael (Free­dom), Fiona Apple (Crim­i­nal), Daft Punk (Around the World) and the Aphex Twin (Come to Dad­dy).

Many of whom, you’ll have noticed, went on to make the move into fea­tures. But, with the excep­tion of Spike Jonze’s Being John Malkovich and Adap­ta­tion, and Gondry’s Eter­nal Sun­shine of Spot­less Mind (all three of which were writ­ten by Char­lie Kauf­man), their films proved to be every bit as con­ven­tion­al and stu­dio-bound as the wave of from-adver­tis­ing-to-fea­ture film mak­ers who’d pre­ced­ed them, with the likes of Rid­ley and Tony Scott, Adri­an Lyne and Alan Park­er.

Radio­head­’s Street Spirit

And when Jonathon Glaz­er, the classi­est mem­ber of that for­mer cohort, made that same tran­si­tion, it seemed that he too was des­tined to sim­i­lar­ly disappoint. 

Glaz­er had made the icon­ic videos for Radiohead’s Street Spir­it and Kar­ma Police, and Jamiroquai’s Vir­tu­al Insan­i­ty, as well as Guin­ness’ surf­ing-hors­es and Sony Bravia’s explod­ing-paint-in-a-Glas­gow-hous­ing-estate ads.

But his ini­tial for­ay into fea­tures was decid­ed­ly under­whelm­ing. Sexy Beast (2000), Birth (2004) and Under The Skin (2013, and reviewed by me ear­li­er here) were thin and nar­ra­tive­ly under-cooked. So it was with some­thing of a heavy heart that I sat down to watch his fourth fea­ture, The Zone of Inter­est (2023).

How refresh­ing to be proved so unequiv­o­cal­ly wrong. The Zone of Inter­est is both a seri­ous film and one of gen­uine substance.

Guin­ness

It doesn’t seem to have much of a sto­ry, and you’d be for­giv­en for think­ing there’d been lit­tle writ­ing involved in the craft­ing of the script. But the supe­ri­or writ­ing comes in what Glaz­er leaves out from the source mate­r­i­al of Mar­tin Amis’ 2014 nov­el. As ever then, the writ­ing is in the editing.

It is the fact that noth­ing remark­able hap­pens, as the Ger­man fam­i­ly go about their dai­ly busi­ness some­where in Poland, in 1943, that makes it impos­si­ble for us not to notice that they are liv­ing lit­er­al­ly next door, not just to a, but to the most noto­ri­ous con­cen­tra­tion camp ever con­struct­ed. That then, dev­as­tat­ing­ly, is the story. 

How on earth can that be? How can human beings pos­si­bly live right next door to that, and not be con­sumed by it? As such, it becomes a sear­ing indict­ment of the Ger­mans, the east Euro­peans, and of the whole of the West. After all, every­one there knew what was going on, but almost no one did any­thing about it.

In his New York­er review , Antho­ny Lane won­dered whether an entire fea­ture film was the best way to explore what was being avoid­ed. After all, hadn’t Alain Resnais done that so much more eco­nom­i­cal­ly in Night and Fog, his 32 minute doc­u­men­tary film from 1956?

But it is pre­cise­ly because we already have Claude Lanz­man­n’s mon­u­men­tal 9 hour Shoah (reviewed by me ear­li­er here) and Resnais’s Night and Fog, both of which address the holo­caust head on, that a film which refus­es to do so becomes so potent. 

By not to fac­ing up to what ought to be unavoid­able, the film forces us to address those unan­swer­able ques­tions. And, irre­spec­tive of how unsat­is­fac­to­ry any answers might be, it’s vital nonethe­less that those ques­tions are asked.

You can see the trail­er for The Zone of Inter­est here:

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