The Zone of Interest

DIGITAL REVIEW:

 A24;
Drama;
Box Office $8 million;
$19.99 digital purchase;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic material, some suggestive material and smoking.
Stars Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Johann Karthaus, Luis Noah Witte, Nele Ahrensmeier, Lilli Falk.

The road to hell is paved with well-intentioned Holocaust films, celluloid Cliff’s Notes geared for unenlightened high schoolers whose history teachers did them a great disservice. There’s none guiltier of muddying the waters with sentimentality and obvious truths than fallen somebody Harvey Weinstein. With all of the well-founded arguments in favor of Weinstein spending the rest of his unnatural life in the slammer, how’s this for extenuating circumstances: no filmmaker of his generation did more to bank on the Holocaust in the name of garnering nominations than he. Every awards season Harvey led the charge — “We must never forget… the amount of awards to be won and money to be made!!” One could always count on The Weinstein Company’s contributions to the annual Holocaust derby (Life is Beautiful, The Reader, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Good, Defiance). At Miramax, the Holocaust was the reason for awards season. The only organization more drawn to Hitler’s inferno as a gateway to gold is the Academy. Harvey no doubt wished he’d had a hand in this year’s soft-pedaling of history and Best Picture nominee The Zone of Interest.

It’s the one subject that should be dealt with strictly in documentary form. Even then the urge to sentimentalize and/or sensationalize the Holocaust is frequently too hard for filmmakers to resist. Weinstein defended his above-mentioned streak in an interview with Page Six. “What a wonderful subject to explore in as many ways as possible. I hope our children get educated about the Holocaust, so it will be ‘Never again.'” Harvey knew that Academy members, who frequently confuse messages with art, love throwing their votes to “important” subject matter. He was also aware that many voters have short memories. If studios wanted to cash in come Oscar time, they had better start the bandwagon rolling in the last two months of the year. And did Harvey truly believe that the best way to educate children about the Holocaust was by charging them to watch a fictional film?

A peaceful countryside is the setting for a Höss family summer getaway, a pastoral stream in which the seemingly average family enjoys a lazy summer afternoon. The first thing we’re told about Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) and wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) is that the couple sleeps in separate beds. With no time stamps to guide us, the setting remains uncertain until a pair of 1940’s roadsters containing the family’s five children pull into view. Rudolf’s occupation isn’t made known until we see him leave the house the next morning dressed in full Nazi regalia. Assorted camera angles gradually reveal the location, prime real estate during the war, complete with a breathtaking barbed wire view of Auschwitz’s guard tower and the adjoining concentration camp literally in your backyard. Once the front gate swings open, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to the camps, but we’re never allowed to venture through. The only view of the ovens is withheld for a perfunctory modern-day curtain closer.

If Hanna Arednt reported on the banality of evil, director Jonathan Glazer’s (Sexy Beast, Under the Skin) camera probes the mundanity of evil. A Jew from next door delivers groceries. Most little boys collect marbles; Höss’ youngin has a grouch bag containing Jew’s teeth. A little Polish girl, filmed in night vision, roams the outskirts of the camp leaving fruit for the prisoners. The day-to-day business or running a death mill is Rudolf’s dream job and it’s one he takes very seriously. He is equally as concerned with an SS officer picking lilacs in front of the guard barracks as he is transporting 700,000 Jews to their death. It’s Hedwig who’s asked to bear the greatest shock. Having worked hard to establish an idyllic life for her family, she is shattered to learn Rudolph’s recent promotion means saying farewell to the old neighborhood. But it’s Hedwig who wears the lederhosen in the family, going so far as to suggest that Rudolf plead his case to Hitler himself.

Glazer’s Nazi parable showed its hand early. Alas, the munitions truck loaded with deadpan humor must have got stuck in traffic. With little more than irony and ordinariness to carry the load, the director’s stillborn approach soon gave way to a back-handed familiarity that drowned under the weight of its own repetitiveness.

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Oscar Nominee ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ Coming to Blu-ray and DVD May 28 From Criterion

The Criterion Collection will release the Award-winning French film Anatomy of a Fall on Blu-ray Disc and DVD May 28.

The courtroom thriller stars Sandra Hüller as a novelist who is accused of murdering her husband after he falls out a window.

Directed by Justine Triet, from a screenplay by Triet and Arthur Harari, Anatomy of a Fall won the Palme d’Or at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe for Best Non-English-Language Film and Best Screenplay, and the Critics Choice Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, among other plaudits. It has been nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress for Hüller, Best Original Screenplay and Best Editing. The film was not nominated for the Best International Feature Film Oscar because France’s selection committee instead chose as the country’s representative The Taste of Things, which ultimately did not receive a nomination.

The Blu-ray and DVD editions offer a 2K digital master of the film with a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include an interview with Triet; deleted and alternate scenes with commentary by Triet; audition footage of actors Milo Machado Graner and Antoine Reinartz, and rehearsal footage of Machado Graner and Hüller; the film’s trailer; and an essay by critic Alexandra Schwartz.

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Arrow Video US Sets January Blu-ray Releases of ‘Shock,’ ‘Red Angel,’ ‘Sleep’

Arrow Video US is kicking off 2022 with new three Blu-ray Disc genre releases from Italy, Japan and Germany.

Mario Bava’s Shock (1977), coming Jan. 18, stars the legendary Daria Nicolodi as Dora, a woman that goes through extensive electroshock treatment and then moves into her old home with her young son and her new husband. While in the home, she’s tormented by the memories of her dead first husband.

Released in the United States as Beyond the Door II, Shock was the last theatrical film Bava would release before his death in 1980. Arrow presents Shock with a brand-new 2K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. This new restoration features Italian and English soundtracks and newly translated English subtitles. Special features include new audio commentary, new interviews with co-writers Lamberto Bava and Dardano Sacchetti, a video essay, and  more.

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Also arriving on Blu-ray Disc on Jan. 18 is 1966’s Red Angel, from director Yasuzo Masumura. Red Angel takes a look at the horrors of war through the eyes of Sakura Nishi (Ayako Wakao), a young field nurse on the front lines in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War. While tending the wounds of soldiers injured in battle, Nishi must also be strong enough to deal with their unstable mental state and unwanted sexual advances.

Arrow’s Blu-ray release of Red Angel contains a high-definition film presentation with the original uncompressed Japanese audio. Special features include a new audio commentary with Japanese cinema scholar David Desser, a new film introduction by Tony Rayns and a new visual essay from Jonathan Rosenbaum. First pressings will also include an illustrated booklet with new writing from Irene Gonzalez-Lopez.
 
Arrow’s final release of the month is Sleep, which will be issued on Blu-ray Disc on Jan. 25. After being plagued by horrific nightmares of a place she has never been, Marlene (Sandra Hüller) suffers a mental breakdown in a remote village and is placed in a psychiatric ward. Marlene’s daughter Mona (Gro Swantje Kohlhof) follows after her, uncovers dark family secrets, and reveals a curse that threatens her life.

The debut film from director Michael Venus, released in 2020, earned German Film Critics Association Award nominations for Best Screenplay, Best Feature Film Debut, and Best Editing.  Special features on Arrow’s limited-edition Blu-ray release include an audio commentary track with authors Kim Newman and Sean Hogan, a visual essay from film scholar Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, a conversation between director Venus and star Kohlhof, and more.

Arrow Video US releases are distributed through the MVD Entertainment Group.