by Andrew Lapin
(JTA) — “The Zone of Interest,” a sobering drama about a Nazi commander’s behavior during the Holocaust, won the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, as one of several new arthouse films about the legacy of antisemitism that premiered at the festival.
Based on a novel by Martin Amis, the film is a fictional portrayal of the life of Rudolph Hoess, the real-life Auschwitz death camp commandant. It shows his family’s efforts to live blissfully unaware of the atrocities their patriarch is inflicting on Jews a short distance away from them. The movie was directed by British Jewish filmmaker Jonathan Glazer, who has amassed a cult following for cerebral movies such as “Under The Skin” and “Birth.”
The Grand Prix is essentially the runner-up prize at the historic film festival on the French Riviera, which this year was bestowed by a jury including Oscar-nominated Swedish director Ruben Östlund and the actors Brie Larson and Paul Dano. The director Quentin Tarantino, who is married to an Israeli singer and relocated to Tel Aviv during the pandemic, presented Glazer with the Grand Prix during the festival’s awards ceremony.
Observers at the event had thought the movie, which premiered in competition to rave reviews on the same day Amis died of esophageal cancer, had a shot at the top prize, the Palme d’Or. It was competing against nearly two dozen films, including “Kidnapped,” a historical drama about the Catholic Church’s kidnapping of Italian Jewish child Edgardo Mortara in the 19th century.
Glazer shot “The Zone of Interest” on location at Auschwitz, in German, and he told reporters at the festival that he hoped the film adaptation would “talk to the capacity within each of us for violence, wherever you’re from.”
The film will be released this fall by specialty distributor A24, which is also handling the release of another boundary-pushing film about antisemitism that premiered at Cannes: “Occupied City,” a four-hour documentary about the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen. The film is co-produced by McQueen’s wife Bianca Stigter, who also made the acclaimed Holocaust documentary “Three Minutes: A Lengthening.”
Also premiering at the festival out of the main competition was “The Goldman Case,” a courtroom drama based on the real-life 1975 trial of left-wing French Jewish radical Pierre Goldman, who claimed he was a victim of antisemitic targeting by police and who was later murdered. “Anselm,” a 3D documentary about the German painter Anselm Kiefer, who frequently addresses his country’s Nazi past in his work, also debuted at the festival.
Iris Knobloch, the new president of the Cannes Film Festival, is Jewish and is also the first woman to hold the position. Her mother Charlotte Knobloch has for decades been president of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.
Iris Knobloch told Indiewire at the festival that her parents, both Holocaust survivors, had instilled a love of movies in her.
“My parents went to the movies almost two times a week, because they didn’t have a youth, so it was a way to recapture those moments,” she said, adding that this experience taught her “that cinema is an important opportunity to get to a broad audience with the right message.”