Cannes competition continues with Olfa’s Four Daughters by Kaouther Ben Hania and Jonathan Glazer’s shock film, The Zone of Interest.
Festival de Cannes 2023 : The competition for the Palme d’Or featured Kaouther Ben Hania‘s Les Filles d’Olfa (Olfa’s Four Daughters) and Jonathan Glazer‘s The Zone of Interest, whose screening caused the first shock of the Festival by the chilling realism of the evocation of the family life of the Auschwitz commander.
Olfa’s Four Daughters, between documentary and fiction
While working on her film Zaineb n’aime pas la neige, Kaouther Ben Hania is caught by a story on the radio. The mother of four teenage girls testifies about the tragic disappearance of her two oldest daughters. This woman is Olfa. The story is as rich as it is troubled, haunting the director to the point of contacting the mother. To make up for their absence, director Kaouther Ben Hania calls on professional actresses and sets up an unusual film device to lift the veil on the story of Olfa and her daughters. The Tunisian director says: “It is the role of cinema to explore these areas, these ambiguities of the human soul. An intimate journey of hope, rebellion, violence, transmission and sisterhood that will question the very foundation of our societies.
The Zone of Interest, the banality of evil
The Zone of Interest, the fourth feature film by British director Jonathan Glazer, is a shock film like László Nemes‘ Son of Saul was. But instead of showing the horror of the Final Solution from inside the camp, heroic or survival actions, Jonathan Glazer takes us into the ordinary daily life of Rudolf Höss, (Christian Friedel), commander of Auschwitz, who, with his wife Hedwig and his family, occupies a house at the foot of the walls of the “KZ” (Konzentrationlager). The husband zealously strives to keeping the quotas decreed by Himmler for the elimination of Jews, Tzigeuner (Gypsies) and other “entartete” (degenerates) who do not conform to the Aryan ideal of Nazism. The wife (Sandra Hüller) raises their blond children, helped by inmate-servants, and fights against the weeds that invade her flower and vegetable garden.
This is the first time that a director is evoking, on the other side of the high barbed wire walls, the family life of an SS executioner who participates in the industrialisation of mass murder, approving the plans of ovens running continuously and, at the same time, takes his children on a river in a canoe in his free time. With sober, fixed shots, the director of Birth and Under My Skin (2013) takes us into the banality of evil, the scenes are interwoven in a chilling realism to describe this family universe tasting the pleasures of life with, in the background, over the walls, the cries of the tortured, the orders of the executors, and the smoke spewed out by the chimneys of the camp and the locomotives of the death convoys. This film reminds us that “those who only obeyed orders” lived in denial of the suffering of their victims, unmoved, during the agony of a part of humanity.
The “zone of interest” was the name the Nazis used to describe the 40 square kilometre area surrounding the Auschwitz concentration camp in Silesia (Poland). In the attachment of the camp commandant’s wife to her garden and house, which Hedwig shows in her intention not to follow her husband on his next transfer, The Zone of Interest also evokes the Nazi theme of Lebensraum, the idea of living space, used to justify Nazi Germany’s expansionist policy towards the East, expansionism that was as much territorial as biological and cultural, so that the Third Reich of National Socialist Germany would establish the “Tausendesjähriges Reich”, the thousand-year empire. Fortunately, the thousand years that the Third Nazi Reich was to last were reduced to twelve!
The Red Carpet of Olfa Four Daughters in pictures
Click on pictures to enlarge – ©YesICannes.com – All rights reserved