Christmas Thoughts About ‘Zone of Interest,’ a Timely and Timeless Film

Ten days ago, Zone of Interest, a Holocaust film, was released in the United States. It’s one of those movies that gets serious ‘Best Picture’ talk at Academy Awards time. From the picture’s Wikipedia entry:

The Zone of Interest is a 2023 historical drama film written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, loosely based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Martin Amis. A co-production between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, the film centers on Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife as they strive to build a dream life next to the concentration camp. It stars Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller in the lead roles.

 The Zone of Interest premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on 19 May 2023 to critical acclaim, winning the Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize. It was released in the United States on 15 December 2023, and will be released in the United Kingdom on 2 February 2024, by A24, and in Poland on 9 February 2024 by Gutek Film. It was named one of the top 5 international films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and was selected as the British entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards, and was one of the 15 finalist films in the December shortlist.

If you’ve read the Amis book on which Zone is “loosely based,” I think you’ll shake your head in wonder: the plots of the two story versions share a scene and major characters — the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Commandant’s home just outside its walls and him and his family — but little of the action. The novel turns on a love triangle of sorts and involves a collaborating prisoner forced to choose between killing the woman in the dispute between two Nazis and the survival of his own wife; the movie doesn’t have a plot more engaging than the true-to-history assignment of the Commandant to Berlin and back to Auschwitz. “Loosely based,” though, may be exactly right because the two stories share the remarkably sharp message of the human capacity to be consumed with their individual lives in feigned ignorance of and real indifference to the madness taking place all around them.

The movie is making such a big splash because of the way it delivers its version of the message, a method impossible in a book. The writer and director filmed the movie with its bland plot-line — there are no scenes filmed within the operating Concentration Camp or characters trying to kill or save each other — but, post production, he added a sound track of all the noises coming from the machinery of mass murder just out of sight but not of hearing. The viewing audience, however, gets the full audio and is, as you must imagine, stunned beginning to end by the deliberate obliviousness of the story’s players in their relations with one another to the historical crimes against humanity, the scientific and systemic slaughter of more than a million people, taking place within easy earshot.

The trailer for the film can be watched via this link and the story of Glazer’s unique film-making choices can be read at How ‘The Zone of Interest’ Uses Our Ears Like No Other Film. It’s not currently showing in Oklahoma City but I hope to see the movie when it arrives, before or after next year’s Academy Awards. Zone of Interest  seems that rare film that communicates a simultaneously timely and timeless meaning, one that this medium is uniquely capable of delivering so powerfully.

After the jump, I share my thoughts in direct violation of the dictum not to talk about politics or religion over the holidays. Please stop here if you couldn’t be less interested in my ‘take’ on this film and why it is causing such a stir at Christmas time this year. No apologies will be offered to anyone scandalized by the contrarian opinions and traditional perspective which follows.

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Troubled Blood BBC1 Trailer Thoughts

Louise Freeman posted a link yesterday to the trailer thas been released for the Bronte Studio’s adaptation of Troubled Blood for BBC1, a series of four shows that will be released on 11 December, a prime time to promote the series before peak Christmas shopping.

It’s very brief but the clips provided are intriguing, both for what they show and do not show.

After the jump, five first-thoughts on this adaptation in light of the clip! [Read more…]

‘Sorting Hat’ Pronounced Dead at 98; Requiescat in Pace, Leslie Phillips

Leslie Phillips, CBE, actor, voice artist, and UK legend, died yesterday, aged 98. Though a star in over 150 movies, mostly bawdy comedies, he is best known to Americans as the voice of the Sorting Hat in the Harry Potter movies, a part he voiced in the film adaptations of Philosopher’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, and the second Deathly Hallows.

Phillips’ participation in the Potter movies was somehow very fitting. The repertoire company of UK greats that were assembled for the eight Hogwarts blockbusters, after all, was somehow reminiscent of the troupe that made the Carry On film series, 31 movies over forty years, one of the most successful franchises in British history. Only the adaptations of Ian Fleming’s James Bond adventures has gone on longer. Leslie Phillips starred in three of the first Carry On romps — Jim Dale, a voice much more familiar to American Potter-philes, was in eleven of these politically incorrect farces — and his “Ding-Dong!” “Well, hello!” and “I say” catch-phrases helped make the franchise as popular as it became.

At Phillips’ death, Dale is one of the only surviving Carry On stalwarts, Sid James, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Williams, and Joan Sims having died years ago. Phillips refused to move to Hollywood even though he had had some success in a 1957 Gene Kelly musical because he feared becoming a “poor man’s David Niven.” He wound up instead after a long career in English comedies as the voice of Godric Gryffindor’s headdress, the iconic Sorting Hat at Hogwarts. No doubt his fans in the UK recognized his voice — “Ding Dong!” — and were delighted at his appearance in the Warner Brothers films, a link to the grand tradition of Pinewood Studios.

Read all about him in the Daily Mail obituary or his Wikipedia page and watch a documentary about the Carry On films made on the occasion of the 40th anniversary party for cast and crew in 1998. I couldn’t help but think while watching that of the much slicker productions made for the Harry Potter 20th anniversary reunion last year. If any of you have Leslie Phillips memories to share, please do — especially those who think, as I do, that his voice role in the Potter films was a hat-tip from Leavesden Studios to Pinewood.

How to Save the Fantastic Beasts Series

Yesterday Elizabeth Baird-Hardy masterfully summarized the latest news out of Hollywood about the Fantastic Beasts movies in a post fittingly titled, No More Fantastic Beasts Films? In brief, the word is that the CEO of Warner Brothers-Discovery has lucrative franchises on his mind, wants to work with Rowling to revive the comatose Harry Potter golden goose, and that he hinted Rowling was not interested. He did not mention the Fantastic Beasts movies, which as Prof Baird Hardy noted, is in keeping with the revenues generated (or, more precisely, not generated) by the first three Beasts films.

She ended this post by asking, “If Newt’s big screen adventures are over, will there be book adaptations to connect the dots between the prequels and the beginning of Harry’s story? Do you care?” I think it is fair to say that I don’t care, maybe even obligatory to mention as I haven’t yet read the third screenplay or seen Secrets of Dumbledore. Trapped on a British Airways flight recently, I thought I would have a chance to watch it but the screening technology for the seat-backs failed, a turn I took as providential.

do care, though, about what Rowling writes, so here are my answers to those end of post questions, answers that include a more or less clear path forward to revive and reinvigorate the Beasts franchise. [Read more…]

No More Fantastic Beasts Films?

According to widely reported accounts, Warner Brothers may be shelving the Fantastic Beasts series. With the last two films getting less positive response and less box office response than the first one, it appears we may not see the remaining two stories in Newt’s series, or at least not anytime soon.  Some news stories blame controversy or the rumored feud between the studios and Rowling, but it seems far more likely that the issue is financial. According to the Internet Movie Database, the first Fantastic Beasts film grossed $814,044,001 worldwide,  but the second only grossed $654,855,901 and the third $405,161,334. Franchises are supposed to make more money with each installment, or at least have close box offices, not drop sharply in revenue. For comparison, the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone earned  $1,023,842,938 and the eighth film, the second part of The Deathly Hallows, generated $1,342,359,942. Each of the different installments had varying returns, but they all continue to be successful, generating income and running repeatedly on syndication. Warner Bros has cut other projects that were not expected to perform well.

While some outlets are declaring the Fantastic Beasts series as dead as Professor Binns, other stories are focusing on Warner Brothers’ interest in making more Harry Potter movies, with Rowling, if she is interested. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslav says the studio is really interested in franchises and wants to see “if we can do something with J.K. on Harry Potter going forward.” The fact that he refers to her as “J.K.,” rather than as “Jo,” or “Rowling,” is interesting, and he also seems to be confused about the potential for more films about Harry, seeing the franchise as just another cash cow rather than as an adaptation of a book series whose books have all been adapted. Some think Warner Bros may try to move forward with a Cursed Child  adaptation, and some of the the film’s stars and director Chris Columbus seem interested, but the studio’s franchise focus may instead mean that the entire series could be getting a reboot with entirely new actors.

If Newt’s big screen adventures are over, will there be book adaptations to connect the dots between the prequels and the beginning of Harry’s story? Do you care? Thoughts, theories?