A unique affront that traditionally harrowing film treatments of the Holocaust like “Schindler’s List” have never been, “Line of Interest” conceals as much as it reveals, redirecting the viewer’s perspective on the defining atrocities of the 20th century.
Needless to say, it’s not for everyone. Nothing. But writer-director Jonathan Glazer’s 105-minute review of Martin Amis’s 2014 novel of the same name is quite impressive. Really not for everyone. The director, who made his previous film “Under the Skin” ten years ago, has created one of the most radical page-to-screen adaptations in recent memory. He did this by jettisoning Amis’s fictional “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”-style sexual seduction letters; I found it compelling, sappy, and morally offensive. Despite its awards and international praise, the film may be offensive to some, albeit for entirely different reasons.
In other words, this is an achievement that will spark serious debate.
Bringing to life Amis’s made-up characters teetering on the edge of caricature, Glazer’s film uses the real names of real people and his own imaginings of their daily lives just beyond the walls of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
In the commandant’s house and garden, SS officer Rudolph Höss (Christian Friedel), his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller from “Anatomy of a Fall”) and their five children run their business. Scenes are placed before us neutrally, often without any camera movement, but they are never visually predictable. Birthday party. A noisy gathering around the small swimming pool. A gentle walk among Hedwig’s precious flowers as she cradles her newborn baby.
Others come and go: house cleaners, gardeners, Jewish prisoners working as laborers, their eyes cast downwards. In one scene, Hedwig gossips with her friends or is alone in her bedroom trying on a stylish mink shawl stolen from a prisoner. At another point, we hear a faint sound from the family’s courtyard, and then in the distance we see a freight train carrying the last load of prisoners to the camp.
In one striking passage, Hedwig’s mother arrives for an extended visit. She admires what her daughter has done to make the place so welcoming and well-equipped. (At another point, the Höss children read a guestbook in which a visitor thanks the family for their “National Socialist hospitality.”) Then a cut. Hedwig’s mother had a sleepless night. She leaves suddenly, without notice. We, the audience, become aware of what the family does not want to believe: the voices from beyond the wall, the inhuman wails, the industrial groans, prove to be too much for them. Everyone in this family, and this peaceful, disgusting corner of the Final Solution, knows exactly what’s going on every minute.
“Sphere of Interest” takes enormous risks without huge dramatic contraptions. The startling contrast of ordinary, strategically neutral tones and images is subverted by a sound and musical score design that cries out from a kind of subconscious of mass suffering. Mica Levi, one of the best composers working in cinema today, created the score that briefly deploys and captures the explosions; Working from 600 pages of Auschwitz research documents, sound designer Johnnie Burn created the spectacular auditory landscape.
The actors are denied many of the dramatic assists customary in cinematic performance; The acting feels like behavior, not acting, and you can count the close-ups on both hands. Director Glazer and cinematographer Lukasz Zal prefer medium and long shot compositions with a calm neutrality, giving the viewer a real distance while strengthening our experience of taking everything in. Yet we get exactly what we need from Friedel and Hüller; “Rudi calls me the Queen of Auschwitz,” Hedwig proudly tells her mother with just the right amount of cheerfulness.
Zal used up to 10 cameras positioned around the house and grounds, often hidden from the actors, so that the actors could improvise lines and physical behavior with ease. Glazer probably did himself no favors by describing this approach as “Big Brother in the Nazi house.” But the aesthetic result of all these design and directorial decisions is nothing short of fluidity (though some dialogue, such as a conversation between Rudolf and Hedwig by the river, underlines the characters’ sterile delusions all too clearly). We watch these people act as if everything were for the best in the worst of all possible worlds. And if a family swim, photographed from afar, is interrupted by bones floating below the camp, that kind of thing happens in this world—our world.
In his autobiography, written after the Nuremberg trials while awaiting his execution in the camp he directed in 1947, Höss rationalized that he was merely “a cog in the wheel of the great machine of destruction created by the Third Reich.” An American military psychologist wrote at the time that the Auschwitz commandant “was intellectually normal, but had schizoid apathy, insensitivity, and lack of empathy that could not be more extreme in an overt psychotic.”
In Glazer’s film, barbarism is everywhere, every second, behind a destructive mask of normality. It doesn’t need demonizing flourishes. This is the first film to tackle the Holocaust in any way, daring to dismantle movies’ reliance on dramatizing inhuman or inhumane evil in the way that audiences have become accustomed to taking it and, dangerously, dismissing it as long ago and immemorial history. it could be. . In the climax, we see Höss, his career rising, called to his next assignment, staring down a dark corridor, far from the home he has come to love. He sees a strange vision, a vision he cannot comprehend. Beyond words.
I won’t forget it soon. Or many things related to “Interest”.
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“Point of Interest” — 4 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, some suggestive material and smoking)
Running time: 1:45
How to watch: Premieres in theaters January 12
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.