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Jonathan Glazer's Latest Film Explores the Contrasting Extremes of Life and Death

"What I wanted to film was the contrast between someone serving a cup of coffee in their kitchen and someone being a murderer on the other side of the wall. The coexistence of those two extremes."

Perhaps the film that filmmaker Jonathan Glazer is most remembered for is "Under the Skin" (2013), thanks to its starring role by Scarlett Johansson and being a loose adaptation of Michel Faber's science fiction novel. However, in his short filmography, he has two more titles: "Birth" (2004), considered by some as one of the most misunderstood or underrated works in cinema, in which a widow (Nicole Kidman) agrees to marry another man until a ten-year-old boy claiming to be the reincarnation of her deceased husband appears in her life and asks her not to marry her new partner. The other is "Sexy Beast" (2000), his debut, which was very well received and earned Ben Kingsley his third Oscar nomination with a memorable supporting character.

It had been almost ten years since Glazer released a new film, and he brought it to the official competition at Cannes, where he recently won the Grand Prix of the Jury and the FIPRESCI, awarded by the International Federation of Film Critics.

"The Zone of Interest," based on the novel of the same name by Martin Amis, follows Auschwitz commander Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig as they strive to build a dream life for their entire family right next to the infamous concentration camp.

Glazer likes to take his time between films, so once "Under the Skin" was finished, the idea for this new production arose when he discovered and took a first look at Amis' book, which caught his attention for its perspective on the double life of its fictional character, inspired by the real commander of Auschwitz extermination camp, Rudolf Höss. The adapted screenplay by Glazer himself, which involved two years of prior research, does feature the real couple as central characters. The director has stated that his film is not about the Holocaust but an anthropological look at a marriage, being careful not to romanticize them. "What I wanted to film was the contrast between someone serving a cup of coffee in their kitchen and someone being a murderer on the other side of the wall. The coexistence of those two extremes."

The Cannes Film Festival described "The Zone of Interest" as offering a chilling snapshot of the realities of concentration camps while also reflecting on the limits and boundaries of the human soul. "What we have is a film about a family drama, about a man and his wife. They are happy, they have five children and a beautiful home. She is a very enthusiastic gardener and enjoys living surrounded by nature. He has an important job and is good at what he does. They complement each other," explains Glazer.

The perspective on the Holocaust in this film is different, as is the representation of violence, something that initially posed an ethical conflict for the director, who extensively researched the subject. "A good example would be the film 'Salo.' I couldn't make a film like that. I don't have the stomach for it. So, we stayed on the other side of the wall. I knew that sound, and our interpretation of sound, would complete the images we have all already seen and studied in school... I didn't want to have reenactments of that violence, I didn't want to see extras in striped pajamas being beaten, pretending to be beaten, no matter how well executed, and then having to watch those extras eating custard and apples."

The couple portraying the Höss family is played by German actress Sandra Hüller, who is also the lead in this year's Palme d'Or-winning film, "Anatomy of a Fall," and Christian Friedel ("The White Ribbon"). Glazer filmed the movie in Poland and Germany in January of last year.

"The Zone of Interest" received two additional independent recognitions: the Cannes Soundtrack Award and the Vulcan Award of the Technical Artist, which was given to the film's sound designer, Johnnie Burn.

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