The Zone of Interest - Photo A24
The Zone of Interest – Photo A24

How do you choose what movie to watch? Most people want to be entertained. Others want to be educated. British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer’s harrowing Holocaust drama “The Zone of Interest” – recipient of five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director – falls into the latter category. 

Loosely adapted from Martin Amis’ 2014 novel, it follows the seemingly mundane lives of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Franz Ferdinand Höss (Christian Friedl), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Huller) and their five children who dwell in a comfortable home that’s adjacent to the notorious concentration camp in Western Poland. 

Their story begins with a bucolic scene as the Höss family is enjoying a picnic by the river. Driving home, they seem blissfully unaware of the cruelty and genocide occurring next-door – despite the ambient sound of reverberating gunshots, audible cries, dogs barking and roar of the crematorium fires.

When her husband brings home ‘loot’ confiscated from prisoners delivered regularly by transport trains, Hedwig grabs a fur coat, tries it on and is delighted to find that it fits her perfectly; there’s even a lipstick in the pocket. One of her sons avidly collects gold teeth. 

Tending her carefully landscaped fruit trees and gardens, nourished by human ash, Hedwig is so enamored of her residence that – when Rudolf is transferred to another camp – she insists on staying behind.

According to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, S.S. Commandant Höss masterminded the mass murder of 1.1 million men, women and children, most of them Jews. But that’s never discussed. 

Instead, the Höss family, enjoying their powerful position, embodies Nazi values, emphasizing self-interest as opposed to empathy. They’re inordinately proud of their multi-story villa with its swimming pool and extensive greenhouses.

It’s a chilling depiction of what American historian/political theorist Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” 

Working with Polish cinematographer Lukasz Zal, Glazer chooses to present the horrors occurring over the barbed-wire-topped wall sonically – meaning that he never ‘shows’ familiar images of the atrocities. They’re only heard – which assumes audiences are well aware of what they’re not seeing.

FYI: 

1) The titular “Zone of Interest” is what the Nazis called the restricted zone around Auschwitz. 

2) Rudolf Höss was hanged in 1947, but his complicit wife Hedwig remarried and lived in the United States until her death in 1989.

In interviews, Jonathan Glazer maintains: “Fascism starts in the family. This is not a film about the past. It’s about now, and about us and our similarity to the perpetrators, not our similarity to the victims.”

Is it a commentary on Trump’s isolationism? Is it about our refusal to acknowledge the desperation of the homeless in our cities and/or refugees on our Southern border? Glazer hopes the audience will appreciate its timely relevance.

In German with English subtitles – on the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Zone of Interest” is an agonizing, excruciating 8, showing in theaters.

The Gilded Age - Photo HBO MAX
The Gilded Age – Photo HBO MAX

The second season of Julian Fellowes’ genteel, rococo soap-opera known as “The Gilded Age” finds ambitious 19th century NYC aristocrats dressed in bustles and top hats. Ambition meets its match as traditional customs collide with innovative schemes, proving that when the old rules don’t bend, something has to break,

And since much of the filming took place in and around New York and Rhode Island, more than 60 of Broadway’s brightest musical stars comprise the cast, giving it a frivolous upstairs/downstairs aura – like ‘Downton Abbey Lite.’

Season 2 begins on Easter morning, 1883, with the news that snobbish Mrs. Caroline Astor (Donna Murphy) has rejected nouveau riche Bertha Russell’s (Carrie Coon) request for a box at the prestigious Academy of Music, despite Bertha’s new champion, busybody Ward McAllister (Nathan Lane). 

In retaliation, Bertha ruthlessly challenges Society’s Old Guard by sponsoring the new Metropolitan Opera, while her railroad tycoon husband George (Morgan Spector) tackles the threat of labor unions at his Pittsburgh steel plant. (Although she’s not named, Bertha’s character is obviously based on Alva Vanderbilt.)

Among spectators at Newport’s lawn tennis, Bertha’s Harvard-educated architect son Larry (Harry Richardson) becomes scandalously infatuated with older, widowed Mrs. Susan Blane (Laura Benanti). Returning to New York, he learns who really designed the engineering for the just-opened Brooklyn Bridge.

Across East 61st Street at the Brook House, acerbic Agnes van Rhijn (Christina Baranski) discovers to her chagrin that her niece Marian (Louisa Jacobson, Meryl Streep’s youngest daughter) is teaching art at a girls’ school and that her sister Ada Brook (Cynthia Nixon), aided by Aurora Fane (Kelli O’Hara), may no longer be a lonely spinster. 

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, melodrama reigns supreme as grieving Dorothy Scott (Audra McDonald) learns that her intrepid daughter Peggy (Denee Benton) has become an activist/journalist at the Black-owned New York Globe.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Gilded Age: Season 2” is a sumptuous, sudsy 7, streaming on HBO MAX.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.