Who is Jonathan Glazer, UK director wowing Cannes?

AFP , Saturday 20 May 2023

​Jonathan Glazer has made just a handful of films in 20 years, but each has been unique, drawing highly memorable performances from stars such as Nicole Kidman and Ben Kingsley.

Jonathan Glazer
Jonathan Glazer at Cannes Film Festival (Photo: AFP)


A decade on from his last film, "Under the Skin", the ultra-bizarre alien flick starring Scarlett Johansson, the enigmatic filmmaker is competing at the Cannes Film Festival with Holocaust drama "A Zone of Interest" that has scored laudatory reviews.

Here's a quick summary of the man and his work:

Ads and music videos

London-born Glazer, 58, began in the theatre before moving into adverts and music videos.

He made memorable ads for Guinness, Stella Artois and Levi's in the 1990s and several videos for Radiohead, as well as Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity" which won the MTV video of the year award in 1997.

'Sexy Beast' (2000)

Glazer caused a sensation with his first film starring Ray Winstone and Ben Kingsley, putting a bravura spin on the tired British gangster genre with the sort of searing images that characterised his ads and music videos.

It gave the world one of most unforgettably insane characters ever committed to celluloid in Kingsley's motor-mouthed psycho Don Logan -- as distant as it's possible to be from his best-known role as Gandhi -- earning the actor an Oscar nomination.

'Birth' (2004)

Radically switching genres, Glazer turned next to this eerie New York tale about a widow (Nicole Kidman) confronted by a 10-year-old who claims to be her reincarnated dead husband.

The film confounded and scandalised critics at the time and was booed at its Venice Film Festival premiere, with many disturbed by the sexual overtones of the central relationship, but its reputation has grown over the years and earned comparisons with legendary director Stanley Kubrick.

'Under the Skin' (2013)

Glazer's mysterious sci-fi set in a remote coastal Scottish town drew a stand-out performance from Scarlett Johansson, playing an alien in human form who roams the beaches and streets, picking up random men and luring them to an abandoned house.

Mixing highly stylised abstract scenes with gritty Glasgow realism, Glazer's film was both baffling and mesmerising, but this time the critics were won over, with the film topping multiple film-of-the-year lists.

'The Zone of Interest' (2023)

After a decade in which he only made a couple of short films, Glazer has returned with another unique offering -- looking at the disturbing ordinary private life of a Nazi officer at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

It never shows the horrors of the camp directly, but the audience knows full well what the background noises -- trains, incinerators, gunshots and screams -- signify. Critics have been near-unanimous in their praise.

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