“The Zone of Interest” with Sandra Huller

KWhen and should the crimes of National Socialism be shown in the cinema? Many have attempted it, but few show such a prolific handling of valid concerns as Jonathan Glazer’s new film The Zone of Interest. First the screen is dark, not black, more of a twilight anthracite grey. While the eyes reflexively want to recognize abstract outlines in it, the ears are busy with a sound collage of hissing, murmuring and experimental music – as in Glazer’s last film “Under the Skin” (2013), the sounds were created by the talented British composer Mica Levi.

Are there screams, or are you just imagining it because you know what the movie is about? The uncertainty lasts for a very long time and yet less than five minutes. Then blinding daylight breaks free, allowing for a picnic on the lake shore. Women in white dresses, men in short bathing trunks, only the severe parting put a time in the limelight: in the middle of the Second World War.

We follow the family of SS officer Rudolf Höß (Christian Friedel) back to the mansion. In front of it stretches a magnificent garden, the pride of Hedwig Höß (Sandra Hüller), who tells her mother in a subordinate clause: “Then the wall should still have roses, so that you don’t see it that way anymore.” “That” is the Outer wall of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Hedwig lives her everyday family life with the children; but she knows what’s going on behind her house. She likes to keep fur coats and silk underwear that her husband sends from the confiscated warehouse goods in her closet, telling friends how she once found a diamond in a toothpaste. “I immediately ordered more tubes,” she says and laughs as ice-cold and carefree as only Sandra Hüller can keep in balance. Stiff shoulders, rough gait: you don’t like them.

But the moral questions remain

Glazer shows a pseudo-idyll in bright colors, thus increasing the horror that you don’t see, only hear. Sometimes the wind ignites the embers of the chimneys so strongly that they are reflected on the windows at night. Chills creep out of images of perfect symmetry (here the Wes Anderson attitude quirk finally has an aesthetic purpose) as the camp manager smokes his cigar in front of the fountain in the garden and gazes at the roses. From the novel by the recently deceased Martin Amis, which this film adapts, Glazer has only taken a few motifs, the love story has been deleted – but the moral questions remain, are updated with images from today’s memorial and, as historical feedback, even pull at the film character Höß .

The more general problem of “true stories in films” concerns two other competition entries. The Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania dares an experiment with “Four Daughters”: She focuses on a woman named Olfa and her four daughters, only two of whom still live with their mother. “I hired actresses for the others, as well as for Olfa, because there are disturbing scenes that she doesn’t want to go through again,” explains the director right at the beginning. This develops its own dynamic, as the actresses try to fathom their roles and thus uncover layer by layer of the story of the radicalization of two young women. The two sisters who went to Libya to join IS are known in Tunisia. Without exposing Olfa and her daughters, Hania manages to gain insights into women in Tunisian society. She shows that fear of sexual assault can lead to a hatred of one’s own body that is transmitted from one generation to the next and, paradoxically, ends in an act of youthful rebellion in religious fanaticism.

Natalie Portman in Cannes on Sunday

Natalie Portman in Cannes on Sunday

Image: AFP

Todd Haynes’ “May December” provides a complementary thematic piece in the broadest sense. Here, the story itself, while fictional, revolves around an actress (Natalie Portman) tasked with portraying a woman (Julianne Moore) who seduced a minor and now, 16 years later, has children with him. When first meeting the couple, the actress picks up a package from the doorstep that contains feces. The place has not forgotten what happened. At the same time, the gesture shows what comes with the arrival of the actress: old dirt is carried back into the house.

In his staging of this story about power, sex and lies, Haynes relies entirely on his leading actresses, who deliver a grandiose duel. Portman plays a diamond, sparkling and with sharp edges that cut before you know it. And Moore counters it with the texture of the cupcakes her character constantly bakes: soft and harmless on the outside, but the deeper you delve, the more amazing is the core.

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