The director of a Cannes competition film about the blissful domestic life of the commandant of the Auschwitz death camp said the story speaks to “the capacity within each of us for violence.”
At the press conference for “The Zone of Interest,” which premiered on Friday, the British director Jonathan Glazer said he’s been thinking about making a film about the Holocaust for many years, but only figured out the story he wanted to tell after he visited Auschwitz a few years ago.
“When we started the film I wasn’t sure what film we were going to make, what perspective it would be from,” he said.
But then he visited the camp where 1 million European Jews were gassed and incinerated, and 150,000 others murdered as well.
“It began to evolve from my own journey, that visit,” Glazer said. “The house and garden the commandant lived in … Its proximity to the camp was jaw-dropping. It got into me.”
That led to the extraordinary “The Zone of Interest,” which strictly limits its gaze to the happy family life – four children, dogs, picnics, gardening, tea parties and bedtime stories – that Rudolf Hoss and his family enjoyed.
Only a brick wall separates them from the mass murder taking place a stone’s throw away, which Hoss oversees. Their garden is fertilized with human ash. Hoss brings home personal items from the victims for his wife and her staff to enjoy.
The horror is all unstated, and the death machine remains in the distance as background noise of gunshots and dogs and human screams. The crematoria chimney burns brightly through the night – but merely as background.
”I hope the film we’ve made is – it’s trying to talk to the capacity within each of us for violence. To try and show these people as people. Not as monsters,” Glazer said.
He added: “I was trying to talk to the present tense in this film. It is presented with a degree of urgency and alarm.
“The great crime is that human beings did this to other human beings. It’s convenient to distance ourselves, but I think we should be less certain than that.”
Actress Sandra Huller was asked how it felt to play a Nazi wife.
“Of course I felt a responsibility as a German to embody this woman,” she said. “There was no real way to do it right. It was never about being good about something. It had to do with presence and listening and being respectful to the people around us.”
The film will be distributed in December by A24.