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Hedwig Höss shows her baby flowers in the garden.

Zone of Interest’s striking depiction of Nazi banality – and other things you should see this week

Rudolf and Hedwig Höss are a couple who “strive to build a dream life for their family”, as Zone of Interest’s official synopsis goes. In the film, we watch the mundane patterns of their lives: the children being sent off to school, the family sitting down to meals, Hedwig tending her garden and Rudolf fishing. However, Rudolf Höss is not any man, he is the commandant of Auschwitz and these scenes of domesticity take place in a house bordering the camp.

You never see any physical violence in Zone of Interest but it is always there pushing in on the periphery of frames, its sounds humming deeply under everything.

Hannah Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil” is wrought powerfully in this film that envisages the lives of these real people. The Hösses are no evil geniuses – they are quite boring actually. They commit evil because they have been ordered to and they do so without introspection, awareness or care. They are, in their opinion, simply living and living well.

Zone of Interest is a deeply unnerving film. It’s not the Nazi uniforms that are the most affecting but the small details that represent the horror. The bag of silk undergarments carelessly thrown upon the table and offered to the family’s servants. The ashes used to make the Edenic walled-in garden bloom. The water turning red as Rudolf’s boots are cleaned. The sound of shots and the near-constant mechanical drone of what I assume is the crematoriums coming from the near distance.

I stayed up late the night I saw the film, talking with a friend about the different things we heard in the intricately woven soundscape and the details we saw hidden among the horrible domesticity. This review by Archie Wolfman increased my appreciation of just how thoughtful every artistic decision was, and why the film is nominated for both best international feature and best picture at this year’s Oscars.

Read more: The Zone of Interest: new Holocaust film powerfully lays bare the mechanisms of genocide

Stateside stories

Another film nominated for best picture that has just hit cinemas is American Fiction. The film is an adaptation of the book Erasure by Percival Everett, and follows disillusioned novelist Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright) as he tries to get what, frankly, sounds like quite a boring and pretentious book sold, but is having no luck. The book, his agent tells him, is just not “black enough”.

Enraged by what he sees selling, Monk writes under a pen name what he perceives as an obvious farce that employs all the worst stereotypes of black people to shame publishers for loving such sorts of books. Called My Pafology (later renamed Fuck), it ends up selling big time and all sorts of hilarity ensues as he chooses to profit from the kind of book he purports to deplore.

It’s a really funny film that makes some really serious points about structural racism and explores different ideas of authenticity and blackness. It also succeeds in doing what Monk wants for stories about black people by black people, in that it is also a touching and nuanced look at the life of a middle-aged black man who faces all sorts of joys and hardships in his personal and professional life.

Read more: American Fiction: scathing and accurate portrayal of the obstacles black writers face in publishing

Apple TV+‘s new series, Masters of the Air, is a big-budget star-studded series about the 100th Bomb Group of the US 8th Air Force. Our reviewer was pleasantly surprised at how accurate and rich the storytelling is. The nine episodes are not action-packed representations of different missions but sensitively woven stories that show a more rounded picture of their experience, including the impact of Allied bombs on civilians.

Another inclusion, that has caused a bit of debate, is the famed “Tuskegee Airmen”. In this piece, Graham Cross explains why the story of these black airmen was right to be included but why he wished the writers had dared to push their story further.

Read more: Masters of the Air: Apple's Air Force drama is imperfect, but powerful

In your feelings

If you’re looking for a film that will make you cry, which sometimes I am, All of Us Strangers might be for you. It’s a romantic fantasy drama about 40-something screenwriter Adam (Andrew Scott) and 20-something Harry (Paul Mescal). Their burgeoning relationship opens something up for Adam who is driven to finally confront the loss of his parents.

Both our reviewers felt it depicted dating as a 40-year-old gay man today quite well. While both Adam and Harry have experienced prejudice, Adam’s romantic life began during the AIDs crisis in the 80s, a scary and hostile time that has left him more suspicious and closed off. All of Us Strangers is a beautiful film that shows that the love we nurture, for the living and dead, is powerful and transformative.

Read more: All of Us Strangers: heartbreaking film speaks to real experiences of gay men in UK and Ireland

And at London’s Somerset House, a new exhibition has opened examining the notion of cuteness and how it came to be such an influential part of global culture. This show explores cuteness in all its forms, from the Victorian obsession with cats to our obsession with small things, adorable memes and plush toys.

However, what does cute mean? As our reviewer found, it’s a slippery term that is quite hard to pin down. But this exhibition, the first of its kind to examine the idea, does its best to consider it from all angles, including why it might not be a good thing.

Read more: What makes something 'cute'? Inside the exhibition defining the phenomenon

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