Movie review: Oscar-nominated 'Zone of Interest' a bold Holocaust tale

"The Zone of Interest" depicts life just outside Auschwitz. Photo courtesy of A24
1 of 5 | "The Zone of Interest" depicts life just outside Auschwitz. Photo courtesy of A24

Jan. 30 (UPI) -- The Zone of Interest, which was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Picture, conveys the horrors of Auschwitz from the outside. The film requires the audience to piece together what is not before their eyes.

Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) is an officer at the Auschwitz concentration camp. He lives in a lavish estate outside the walls with his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Hüller), and their two children.


Director Jonathan Glazer, who co-wrote with Martin Amis, never goes inside Auschwitz. In fact, the only hints at Holocaust atrocities are the distant sounds of gunshots and occasional screams.

The Höss family is just living a domestic drama. They play in the garden and have guests for lunch.

Hedwig and her houseguests discuss Jewish girls on the other side of the wall and wonder if people they knew are in there. They express no regret. It's pure social small talk.

Rudolf dictates memos about Auschwitz activities from the comfort of his office.

The Zone of Interest requires the audience to have foreknowledge of the Holocaust. It's not going to explain what Auschwitz was or even what concentration camps were.

In 2024, it is a relatively safe assumption that most adult viewers will know what they're watching. Hopefully, that remains the case for viewers in the future.


So when German bureaucrats bring over plans for the procedure for ovens, it should shock the viewer that Rudolf treats it like banal protocol. These were one of many instruments of mass execution.

Jewish girls do appear, helping around the house, and Rudolf sleeps with one. They are silent as their coping mechanism was likely to make themselves as invisible as possible to hope to survive.

When Rudolf gets transferred, Hedwig insists on keeping the family at the Auschwitz estate. Auschwitz is paradise to them despite the horrors it contains for Jewish people.

This is a bold and challenging take on the Holocaust. It certainly does not erase the Jewish experience because the sound is always honest about what happens behind the walls.

After decades of movies that depict the atrocities of concentration camps, The Zone of Interest engages viewers by forcing them to fill in the parts of the story the Hösses ignore. It wouldn't work if it were the only Holocaust movie, but the subject has been well covered from The Pawnbroker to Schinlder's List, so there is room for this avant-garde take.


Obviously, given the subject matter, The Zone of Interest is a heavy movie. The audience seeking such material out is rewarded with an alternative technique of conveying what must never be forgotten.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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