There are films that last a long time. This is the case The area of interesta remarkable film by Jonathan Glazer, submitted by Great Britain for the Oscars, showing the everyday life of Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), the commandant of the Auschwitz extermination camp, his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hülser) and their children.
There is no startup image, the screen is black. The music composed by Mica Levi evokes the presence of tortured, persecuted souls, ghosts who want to tell their story. Then the colors light up the cinema room. A picnic by the river, children, parents. Laughter and songs, then the return home. The house is surrounded by a wall that hides the other side.
Because the other side is the Auschwitz extermination camp, where no fewer than 1.1 million people were killed by the Nazis, most of them Jews from Eastern Europe. On the other side, we only see the roofs of the barracks, the chimneys of the crematoriums and their menacing light at night. All we hear is their noise, that growl of a monster that is never satisfied. Gunshots regularly ring out amidst the arriving trains, barking and screaming. The muffled screams that neither Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), nor his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hülser), nor their four children hear while the eldest is busy examining dentures and teeth under the magnifying glass before falling asleep.
Life goes on its daily course. Hedwig receives friends, tries on a magnificent fur coat, finds a lipstick that the former owner, whose fate we imagine, forgot in the bag, without seeing the inmates who come to polish the commander's boots or the household to bring the fruits of the plunder of millions of Jews. She plants flowers and vegetables while Rudolf admires the swimming pool where the children play in the summer. Because in Auschwitz the weather is beautiful, even if the winters are harsh, as Hedwig emphasizes. The garden is her passion, and this house is a kingdom that she has built and of which she is the sole mistress.
But Rudolf receives an order from Berlin to transfer him. Funded. And Hedwig gets angry and demands that her husband make her stay home with the children. In Auschwitz. In this life that she describes as perfect. In the shadow of the camp.
Jonathan Glazer, who gave us the disturbing work Under the Skin, starring Scarlett Johansson, ten years ago, did not want to show any of the atrocities that took place on the other side of the wall, in the camp that has become a museum and memorial We will see some pictures at the end of The Zone of Interest. We can only guess, trembling as we hear the click of guns and the barking of the guards and their dogs. Based on the powerful images of the feature film – which the filmmaker cuts with a red screen and a negative scene – we think of Hannah Arendt's formula for the “banality of evil”. We remember the details of the Auschwitz album about the effectiveness of Rudolf Höß, about the industrial organization of the extermination camp.
We lose all orientation, all idea of humanity. We no longer know whether the term “crimes against humanity” created by the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945 is sufficient to describe the horror. And we wonder whether it is possible to atone or make amends for such a crime. To never repeat it again.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The Grand Prix interest section at the Cannes Film Festival opens on January 19th.