DStarting with the credits, the tone is set: on a gray screen, no images, just a deafening electronic soundtrack, designed to sound like the long rattle of a dying person. The effect is chilling and seems to warn us of the worst. The screen then opens with some chirping birds and the bucolic setting of a lake and a family having a picnic before going for a sunbath.
Here is the Höss family, Rudolf,* his wife Hedwig and their beautiful and disciplined children. Everyone wants to “build a dream life for their family and a house with a garden next to the campsite. »We can’t see it, but Auschwitz-Birkenau is, in Poland, the largest Nazi death factory. The regime defines it as the “area of interest”, which is a 40 kilometer perimeter around the camp.
Hence the title of the film by the 58-year-old British Jonathan Glazer, who won the Grand Jury Prize at the last Cannes Film Festival and is nominated for the next Oscar and César. A real electroshock, Adapted from the novel by his compatriot Martin Amis, who died at the age of 73, two days before its presentation at the Festival, it becomes a nightmare about the triviality of evil. The story? That, then, of the SS commander of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp (1940-1943) Rudolf Höss, who lived a quiet life with his family, a stone’s throw from the crematorium ovens. The couple feels at home in this large house with Jewish workers. There is no question of leaving him. However, when Rudolf has to be taken to Oranienburg, he hides it from his wife and eventually finds out.
“Field of interest” or invisible horror
The originality of the words of Area of Interest it is to never show the horrors of the camp, but to suggest it in an almost subliminal way off-camera, using bright black-and-white, pale colors, shots shot in infrared and a soundtrack that unfolds like a long lament where screams, tears, gunshots. mix. We hear the sound of a wagon, the constant arrival of trains and the happy cries of the Höss children as a deportee makes a garden.
The horror is there, omnipresent, palpable, invisible, but invisible to the extent that the filmmaker adheres to the ban on the representation of extermination camps, which was first advocated by Claude Lanzmann, the author of the famous. a nine hour and thirty minute documentary, the holocaust (1985)where direct witnesses of the genocide speak on camera.
We never see what goes on behind the barbed wire walls, except the black smoke from the chimneys escaping into the air and the constant hum of industrial death. Meanwhile, the Höss children go to school, their mother plants rose bushes, and their father, a strict executioner, settles the details of the final settlement, overseeing sections of a new crematorium. In Area of Interesteach shot emphasizes the “insignificance of evil” as defined by Hannah Arendt.
The actress Sandra Hüller (also the head of the magazine‘Anatomy of a fall Justine Triet) is perfect as the housewife who tries on a fur coat (looted from the deportees) in front of her mirror, uncompromising with her Jewish servants. For his part, Christian Friedel brings all the necessary rigidity to the character of the torturer who is always concerned with doing better.
Everything is routine and even more frightening. It is the erasure of the boundaries between the human and the inhuman, a theme that the filmmaker loves. Under the skin (2013), a strange (literally) sci-fi film starring Scarlett Johansson as a man-eater, and Birth (2004) where Nicole Kidman meets a child who seems to restore her husband’s memories.
“In area of interest, I use satire when I describe the Nazis, it’s true, Martin Amis recalled point But the gist of the book is serious. I think that the writer dealing with the Shoah takes a special responsibility. » Jonathan Glaser recalled: the devil is in the details, but it is invisible and the countryside is very beautiful. Amazing.
“Area of Interest,” in theaters Wednesday, January 31, 2024.
* Rudolph Höss will be tried and hanged on April 16, 1947, in Auschwitz.