Tag Archives: Jonathan Glazer

Garden Party

The Zone of Interest

by Hope Madden

Jonathan Glazer takes his time between features. It’s been a full decade since his magnificent sci-fi thriller Under the Skin, which itself came 9 years after another somber piece of science fiction, 2004’s Birth. That makes the four-year span since his feature debut, the darkly ingenious Sexy Beast, seem insignificant.

But there’s nothing insignificant about Glazer or his remarkable spate of compelling, surprising, thought-provoking films, capped off with his latest, The Zone of Interest.

Told primarily in long shots that dwarf the characters within the larger physical context, Glazer unveils casual evil.

It’s taken a few years, but Hedwig Höss (an astonishing Sandra Hüller) has built a little paradise in the home she and husband Rudolph (Christian Friedel) acquired when he was made commandant of Auschwitz.

Between the house and camp is a large wall. On this side of the wall, lovely, meticulously cared for gardens, a pool, a green house, a dog frolicking here and there, and five healthy blond children. Just beyond the wall but visible in nearly every exterior shot in Glazer’s chilling film, the camp’s incinerator buildings.

Though the Höss family thrives, equally oblivious and complacent concerning the boundless inhumanity that surrounds them, Glazer refuses to let the viewer miss its presence. That disconnect is the icy heart of The Zone of Interest.

By setting the story within a minor family drama – Rudolph is being transferred because of the skill with which he manages Auschwitz and Hedwig is loath to leave the home she’s so painstakingly built – Glazer says more about the insurmountable horror of the Holocaust than most. He dramatizes nothing. Seeing how easily, how thoughtlessly and even eagerly human beings can benefit from incomprehensible inhumanity provides new, highly relevant perspective.

Hüller stuns in a performance that’s never showy yet so deeply vile it’s hard to shake. She’s not alone. Glazer’s full ensemble excels.

He adorns his tale with experimental flourishes that may be intended to cause discord, to provide the audience a moment to pause and reflect on the comfort with which human beings can carry out evil. These moments – except a late film glimpse into modern day Auschwitz – rarely achieve the same impact as the narrative.

It’s a minor misstep in a film so assured and authentic.

ScarJo’s Haunting, Hypnotic Drive

Under the Skin

by Hope Madden

Jonathan Glazer is a filmmaker worth watching. While you’d hardly call him prolific – he’s directed just three films in his 14 year career – each effort is an enigmatic gem worthy of repeated viewings. His latest, Under the Skin, offers a challenging, low key SciFi adventure that keeps you guessing and demands your attention.

Scarlett Johansson turns in her third back to back stellar indie performance as the nameless lead, a mysterious beauty looking for unattached men in Scotland.

Light on dialogue and devoid of exposition, Under the Skin requires your patience and your attention, but what it delivers is a unique and mesmerizing journey, a science fiction film quite unlike anything else out there.

It’s excellent to see Johansson finding her stride again because she’s a versatile, talented performer. While her stunning looks make it almost impossible for her to sidestep all eye candy roles, her work in Her, Don Jon and this film let her flex some artistic muscle.

That musculature is important here, as the film relies almost solely on Johansson’s performance to get its points across. Her character is a unique vehicle, providing little of the traditional foundation normally available for building an emotional evolution. Johansson excels at articulating her character’s development with barely a word.

It’s an impressive feat, not only because of the tools she has to use to deliver the performance, but because she manages to keep the character in our sympathies regardless of her actions or of Glazer’s regular reminders of her guilt. To Johansson’s great credit, we’ve already forgiven her.

Besides a stellar lead, Glazer has one or two other tricks up his sleeve. The film is refreshingly light on FX, and when he does pull that out, the impact is phenomenal, a fitting turn for the atmospheric mystery he’s building.

Early elements call to mind Kubrick’s 2001, and once the film falls into its pace it conjures last year’s brilliant Upstream Color, but Glazer’s effort is certainly its own artistic achievement. Though an almost relentless series of similar incidents, somehow he punctuates this weird monotony with a fascinating balance of perplexity and humanity, and slowly, themes, character and plot emerge.

The effort may try some viewers’ patience, but for those with the attention span for it, Under the Skin pays a remarkable artistic reward.