This week's Hyde Park Pick
HPPH recommends The Zone of Interest as the film you can't miss this week.
With each new Jonathan Glazer film (an event in itself given he has released only four features since his debut in 2000), I experience a huge feeling of anticipation and excitement. But there’s also a sense of trepidation, as I know I will likely once again be asked to question what it means to be human. And not just the good stuff.
There’s no easy way to say this. It turns out humanity can be very, very bad, often having an almost uncanny predilection for cruelty and finding ways to hurt each other. Or perhaps worse, ignoring that we hurt each other, or, by our inaction, silence, or our many distractions, becoming complicit.
Discovering the extent of this complicity and understanding how the cruelty of nature might be tempered by our moral sense, kindness and altruism is a lifelong conundrum of such complexity that we may not wish to face it. But face it we must.
In Glazer’s films, we’re often required to bear witness to this dilemma, to ask those hard questions, and begin to unpick what is and what isn’t in our power to control or change.
In his debut feature Sexy Beast (2000), Ben Kingsley’s Don is monstrously immoral, a violent gangster of incredible cruelty. Yet how complicit are Gal and his wife (retired to Spain on the proceeds of their gang’s bank robbery) in Don’s actions?
Under the Skin (2013) has us travelling around Glasgow alongside Scarlett Johansson, contemplating her utterly alien actions as they give way to a distorted version of humanity, when she attempts to acclimatise to our terrifying world. Oh, and it also contains possibly the bleakest shot in cinema.
The Zone of Interest (2023) brings us right into the lives of Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss and his family, living a seemingly idyllic life with studied indifference to what’s happening just a few feet away from their home. In this case we’re made keenly aware of what we’re not being shown, and why we might prefer to look away.
There are reasons Glazer takes his time to make a film, and the power of The Zone of Interest is a result of his meticulous research and the precision with which he writes and directs.
You can see it in the stark beauty and clarity of the cinematography of Łukasz Żal, who also shot both of Paweł Pawlikowski’s films Ida (2013) and Cold War (2018). You can hear it in the incredible discordance of Mica Levi’s score and in the background noises - the constant hum of the machinery of the holocaust.
And you can feel it in the structure of the film, the space Glazer provides and the formal choices he makes, to force you to confront the banality surrounding these horrifying acts, and to recognise the mundane bureaucratic system that allows such monumental complicity.
What is our part in all of this? Sure, we’re cushioned by the past, but what are we making of our time? I suspect it’s a lesson that lies somewhere in accepting compromise. Humanity is beautiful, but inherently flawed. It’s up to all of us to see, hear and act.
Be kind to each other, okay?
The Zone of Interest (2023) will be screening from Friday 9th February.
Under the Skin (2013) is screening on Thursday 8th February.
The Damned (1969) is screening on Sunday 17th March.