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The Zone Of Interest – Jonathan Glazer (2023)

We see a family at a riverside. When they leave in two cars, it is clear that this is not your average, German family. In the next scenes, we follow the family in their busy home. Lots of personnel and many children. The family has a nice house and the lady of the house built a little paradise of a garden with a part for the children (with pool), a vegetable garden with greenhouses, places to sit, etc.

The man of the house does not have to travel far for work. Out of the garden and into the gates of the concentration camp Auschwitz that Rudolf Höss helped to build and which he manages. The house and the garden of the Höss family borders immediately to an outer wall of the camp.

Glazer mostly shows the daily life of the Höss family. Raising children, tending the garden, receiving family, but also receiving Rudolf’s colleagues and subordinates for business meetings. In the background you constantly hear the low rumbling of the ovens and every so often a guard shouting to a prisoner, gunfire, etc. The family seems to have grown used to these sounds (and the smell?) and live their quiet lives outside the wall enjoying the sun and the river that flows nearby.

Höss is portrayed as a man good as his job. He makes the institute ever more efficient and even though he makes long hours, he finds time to spend with his children, in the garden or in nature and to read a book. In spite of him doing a great job, Höss is told that he will be transferred. His wife goes far in order to be able to stay in her paradise.

There are a few scenes outside of the Höss house, first at Rudolf’s offices and later at a meeting of camp managers.

It is mostly what you do not see that makes this film a fairly hard watch. Everybody knows what is going on in the camp, but that is good for the country, is it not? The Höss family is just doing their part and we are watching them do just that.

Im Westen Nichts Neues – Edward Berger (2022)

This is not the first time that the famous novel of Erich Maria Lemarque has been turned into a film. There is a 1930 and a 1979 version as well. Especially the latter many people will know. I am not sure if I ever saw it myself.

We follow a group of young men from Northern Germany who -towards the end of Word War I- are eager to go the the Western front in Southern Belgium / Northern France to help the German advancement towards Paris. What these adventurers do not know or realise, is that that Western front has hardly moved for a long time, yet costed millions of soldiers to die on both sides.

After a peptalk the new recruits are shipped to Belgium where their dreams are immediately shattered by the brutal reality of actual war. Being welcomed by the sight of fallen soldiers, being bombed on their way to the trenches and also within these trenches, main character Paul soon starts to loose friends.

In the film you can see the brutality of futility of war. Men being canon fodder when sent out of the trenches towards the trenches of the French with nothing more but a bajonet and and a few grenades running straight towards the machine guns of the other side.

I do not understand the English title of the book and films “All Quiet On The Western Front” as it is not quiet at all, but there sure is “nothing new” with not moving front lines and endless death. Since nothing indeed happens, the German contemplate a treaty to prevent further loss of lives. The demands of the French are harsh, but the Germans decide to agree anyway. The ceasefire time is set, only for a hotheaded German general to call for one final and completely unnecessary attack.

Besides war scenes, we also follow the soldiers in the time between combat. How they have to live, how they try to find more food than their rations allow for, the things they talk about, the way they mourn the endless loss of lives…

Indeed, a penetrating look into modern warfare.

Spectral – Nick Mathieu (2016)

In a near future with high-tech warfare, American soldiers run into something that they have not seen yet: an invisible and deadly enemy.

Clyne, the creator of these high-tech items, is sent to a war-zone to try to find out what technique the enemy uses.

“Spectral” makes an alright film with a good war atmosphere. The film is good up until we find out what enemy the soldiers face and then becomes a bit of an action horror which is not too convincing. Of course there is a bit of the obligatory drama and American patriotism, so in this regard a Netflix film is exactly like a Hollywood production.

Darkest Hour – Joe Wright (2017)

On the outbreak of WWII the British prime minister Chamberlain is replaced by Winston Churchill, without much enthusiasm of his own party. Especially when Churchill’s rhetoric is about fighting rather than trying to make peace, ways to get rid off him are soon thought of.

Starting optimistically it soon becomes clear that Churchill has to admit that he cannot overpower Germany and when 300.000 of his troops get trapped at the French border, an unpopular way of evacuating them is started (this evacuation is what the film Dunkirk is about).

Some of his ministers want to make peace with (meaning: surrender to) the Germans, but as the people seem to prefer fighting over flying, Churchill pushes his old tactics again.

The film makes a nice history lesson showing a hard politician who was also but a man.

Allied – Robert Zemeckis (2016)

A romantic spy adventure with Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard, that bound to be a popular Hollywood production. This fairly descent film is only rated 7.1 on IMDb though.

Pitt and Cotillard are coupled on a mission to kill some Nazis and when they survive the mission against the odds, they leave for London where Max Vatan (Pitt) remains under the employment of the British secret service.

The secret agent professionalism initially looks a bit forced, but as soon as the spark of love enlightens, the two actors seem to be more in their element. The story is perhaps not be too surprising, but well-written. Also the film shows well how life continued during the war, while at other times it did not.

A descent film. Very much a Hollywood production, but not a bad watch.

Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan (2017)

  • war

I did not expect to receive this film so quickly from my DVD rental. I have the feeling it is just out of the cinemas. Nolan made some of the best films I know, but war films are not my genre, so I had no haste in seeing “Dunkirk”, but here it was.

“Dunkirk” is a good and pressing film about a small part of World War II. The British decide to evacuate soldiers from a small, French harbor. While thousands of soldiers are waiting for the ships, the Germans come in with fighter planes to throw their bombs.

Nolan managed well to give an idea of the tension. A droning, minimalistic soundtrack. He also managed well to give an idea of the drama on a larger scale, but several personal stories are interwoven to give the viewer characters to identify with, adding to the drama.

Indeed a good film. Not much like previous films of Nolan and war-films remain not my genre, but this is a film to get a glimpse of the atrocities of war.

Waltz With Bashir * Ari Folman (2008)

Last summer we planned to go to the Fantasy Film Fest in Dortmund and the day we had in mind had “Waltz With Bashir”. I watched the trailer and decided that this was one of the films that I wanted to see. In the end, we did not go to Dortmund so I had to wait until another possibility to see the film. After a couple of months of silence, this title is suddenly all over the media. It played on one of the larger Dutch film festivals (Vlissingen if I am correct) and opened the animation festival last week. By now, it also plays in cinemas and for some reason the local arthouse has it listed for as much as five times a day! At least I have been able to see it on the big screen!
As you probably heard “Waltz With Bashir” is a documentary made by an Israelian soldier who fought in the Lebanon war when he was still young. Trying to fill in the blanks in his memory, he tries to find fellow soldiers of the period. Instead of making a dry documentary, Folman has made a great-looking animation. The high-contrast drawings in black and white/yellow and ‘woody’ characters make a slightly surreal atmosphere. The film goes from current events to flashbacks and what is very well done (especially caused by the animations) is that these flashbacks are rather distant, just as the people in the film see the events. While Ron’s memories are reconstructed, the flashbacks become more realistic. Storywise, I think this film is more meant for Israelis than for us Westerners (there are plenty of similar stories that we could make a film of), but the way the film is made is magnificent. The director and his team really managed to set the right atmosphere with the animations and the great soundtrack and the psychological/therapeuthic pursuit of the main character tells us a lot about or own constitution. “Waltz with Bashir” is surely not a pleasent watch, but a good watch and a great film nonetheless.

Fatherland * Christopher Menaul * 1994

Don’t confuse this TV-film with films with similar or even the same titles, I noticed there are a couple of them.

Fatherland is a political thriller that plays in Nazi-Germany, that is to say, an imaginary Nazi-Germany. The Nazis won WWII and Hitler now rules the biggest part of Europe as an empire that he called Gemania or “Das Neue Deutsche Reich”. He is close to turning 75 and not only big celebrations are prepared, but also the coming of the new American president Kennedy to Germania to revive the bonds between the two countries brings exiting times. The Germans are still fighting Russia in the East and Hitler needs America to make sure he will be able to keep and expand his empire. Most of the empire is peacefull and prosperous. The SS has become the police-force and the Gestappo is something similar to the FBI or CIA.
However the civilians are heavily indoctrinated and the Germanian government tells them what to think and to believe, decades of Nazi-government has made some people quite cynical and critical. Because of the coming of JFK for the first time since the beginning of WWII journalists are allowed in the Reich being carefully lead around in a tight program. One of them, Charlie Maguire (Miranda Richardson) is led to a trail that would mean the end of the Reich. A big secret that has costed many lifes and recently the lifes of a few high officers that know about it. One thing that is kept secret from the people is that hundreds of thousands of soldiers have already died in the war against Russia, but the biggest secret of them all, that almost nobody knows about is that six to seven million Jews have not been relocated to the East, but gassed and burned. Before JFK visits Germania, Hitler wanted to get rid off everybody who knows about this, but of course Maguire finds everything out just in time and shows photos to her president who leaves and the Reich falls to pieces. Maguire is helped by the SS-police-officer Xavier March (Rutger Hauer).

The idea is kind of nice. It is strange though that all Germanians speak English, or better said, American English. However newspapers, TV-reports are in German suggesting that the English language is only for the film, the Americans and Germans have no problems whatsoever to understand eachother.
Overall “Fatherland” is an entertaining film. A political thriller after American model placed in Nazi-Germany and with a not too far-fetched story.

Der Untergang * Oliver Hirschbiegel * 2004

I would (should) have seen tbis film before, but for some reason it took until I could lend a copy. I am no fond of war-films and this one isn’t really an exception. I suppose you all know by now that this film shows the last days of the reign of Hitler. The film is based on the ‘documentary’ (a long interview) with Traudl Junge. From it seems that Junge wrote a book that was the base for this film. Also she is supposed to have appeared in other documentaries, while I understood that she wanted to give one and final interview before she passed away. The interview was shown on TV under the title Im Toten Winkel (which is reviewed), late 2002, half a year after Junge died. In the interview ‘Hitlers Sekretärin’ talks about how she came to join the nazi administration and how she experienced the last period of the reign of Hitler. She claims she didn’t know about the horrors of the outside, because she was ‘im toten Winkel’ (‘in the dead angle’). The interview may be a boring and tiring watch, but I found it much more interesting and informative than “Der Untergang”.
The film opens with Junge’s job interview and then immediately jumps to the last hours of WWII. The story of “Der Untergang” is not entirely based on Junge’s information, because there are also scenes where Junge could never have been present. We mostly see the bunker in which Hitler lives and gives his orders. We see him loosing his mind (if he ever had it!) and how his subjects grow against him. Because Hitler is also shown in ‘normal conditions’ (playing with his dogs, being charming towards his secretary, being with Eva Braun) this film was/is controversial because it shows that Hitler was a mere human being. Indeed he can be funny at times, but in general the film shows him to be the power-driven maniac with no regard for his servants or the German people which he most likely was. Less common are the scenes in which Hitler and Braun get married and shortly after commit suicide. The scene in which Hitler says goodbye to everybody close to him is the only scene which may rise a little bit of emotion with the viewer. Strange to see (shocking even maybe) is the devotion to the man by -for example- mrs. Goebbels who even kills her children because she can’t imagine a world without national-socialism.
Filmographically I didn’t find the film too much. The acting is a bit dull, the filming is (probably on purpose) with a distance (in the meaning of: too neutral). Not too great and again I suggest the interview with Junge for the more informative part.

Triumph des Willens * Leni Riefenstahl * 1934

How often do you get the chance to see movies of Leni Riefenstahl on a big screen? Not that often that I know of. The filmmuseum Antwerpen (Belgium) does show four of them though. 21-10-01 “Das Blaue Licht”, 25/10/01 “Triumph des Willens”, 29/10/01 “Tiefland” and on 30/10/01 both parts of “Olympia”. Because Antwerpen isn’t that close to where I live (about 85km) and the movies are mostly shown on week-days, I decided to just go to the most interesting / controversial one.

A real Belgian organisation! There were 100 seats in the room (I heard), but about 120 people inside and about 20 were sent away. Most of them already had a ticket! Anyway, no protestors outside (besides one against the pregnancy-pill) and nothing special in the audience. Just mostly people in their 50’ies probably wondering what the controverse around this movie is all about. Also a few younger people, but I believe most of them were movie or art students.

An introduction was done by a man named Arjen Mulder. In Germany the film is still forbidden to be played without an introduction. This doesn’t go for Belgium, but “probably for certainty” Mulder said. Mulder gave a good biography of Riefenstahl, but he seemed rather sceptical about her person and movies (but also defending her). He mentioned quite a few times how boring “Triumph” actually is and how Riefenstahl swung between brilliancy and sillyness. Funny were his stories of the first times that he tried to see Riefenstahl movies.

But on to the film itself. As you probably heard most images are pretty well-known because they have been used countless times in documentaries about the nazis and kindred subjects. Also sound-samples are often familiar if you listen to the same music as I do.
Of course the film is a documentary about the 6th nazi-party congress in Nürnberg in 1934. Hitler asked Riefenstahl to make it because he liked her “Das Blaue Licht”. Earlier the 5th party-congress (?) was filmed, but this was pretty much of a failure and Riefenstahl denies she ever made “Der Sieg des Glaubens”. Obviously the nazis learned from this film how they should portray themselves like they want to be and “Triumph” is already a lot better, not with soldiers trying to get a glimpse of Hitler and being pushed back in line, but just remaining their positions like they should.
“Triumph” mostly consists of images of parades and speeches which indeed becomes a bit boring after a while. Further there are some strange scenes in which soldiers are shouting or singing repeating eachother.

Often you hear that “Triumph” (or Riefenstahl’s films in general) are really well assembled (cut), but that didn’t really show to me. Often the sound doesn’t fit with the images (bad synchronising) and especially the applause after a speech is too obviously added afterwards, because 50.000 people don’t start and stop shouting and cheering the very same second. Also it is striking that almost nobody looks directly in or at the camera, not even when it is almost inside their noses.
Further is it very clear that Riefenstahl got all freedom to make what she (and Hitler) wanted, being able to shoot parades from different viewpoints (often very well done) either or not at the same time, she could walk upto Hitler and the audience during the speeches (or did she shoot the audience at another time?). I found the many close-ups of ‘general’ people pretty irritating, but I suppose that is just Riefenstahl’s style.

It is true what Mulder said, probably nobody will watch the movie and think “hé, I want that too”. It simply looks silly how all these people are walking in figures, shouting the same things and look extraordinary happy putting wood in an oven. These are the “esthetically pleasing” images that Riefenstahl was looking for, but they do not function too well for propaganda. The images are not “hypnotic”, the speeches no longer agitating and we in the 21st century and simply too different from 67 years ago to be affected by “Triumph” in a negative sense.

But afterall I am glad that I at least saw the thing, because most people’s opinions are formed without having seen the actual project. Actually I think they should show “Triumph” on tv in full-length a couple of times, then everybody will be able to see that it is just a documentary of many decades ago about an upcoming frenzy with devastating results by which people will be just a little influenced than by a documentary about nowadays terrorism.

It is nice to see how they made a documentary back then and funny to see how the nazis wanted themselves to be seen by the outside, but probably as most people who saw “Triumph des Willens”, I do not regard it as dangerous, actually quite the contrary.

And to close off a tip for everyone who did see it. Go to the “internet movie database”, because you will be able to find out who all these nameless persons in the movie are as they are listed in the “actors” list with descriptions.