Why this Oscar-nominated film made history during awards season

Source: A24 Films

One of 10 films competing for the top prize at this year’s Oscars, Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest, has overcome tough competition to make history at a lead-up ceremony in Britain over the weekend.

Described by UK film critic Christina Newland as an “uncommercial, disturbing film” The Zone of Interest is a groundbreaking look at the banality of the perpetrators of one of history’s greatest atrocities.

Focusing on the family life of Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Höss, the drama beat Anatomy of a Fall (French) and Past Lives (Korean) to take out both outstanding British film and film not in the English language at this year’s BAFTAs.

The awards are often seen as a predictor for the Oscars (March 11, AEDT), and the movie beat Saltburn, Wonka and Napoleon in the best British film category.

The Zone of Interest is the first film ever to win both categories.

Accepting the award on stage alongside director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast), British producer James Wilson was “stunned”.

“Foreign film … British film … this was a film made as a coming together of people in the UK, it was shot entirely in Poland with a Polish crew [550] and with … a German cast,” he said.

The film, which also won best sound, follows Höss and his wife, Hedwig, who build a so-called dream life for their family of five children in a house and garden next to the Auschwitz concentration camp during WW11.

“[The] devastating film … doesn’t show us the death, doesn’t take us into the camps. Instead, and this is the movie’s insidious masterstroke, it shows the people just outside the walls, complicit in what’s happening inside,” writes Rotten Tomatoes movie critic Sean Means.

Devastating film 

In a BAFTA podcast, Wilson shares the story of the evolution of the film, from loosely picking up Martin Amis’ 2014 fictionalised novel of The Zone of Interest, to spending three years researching the history of the Holocaust and collaborating all the way with Glazer.

“[We were] … very aware of the weight of other representations of this in films. Of World War II, Nazism, the Holocaust, and the tropes and the clichés and films that loom over it.

“From Schindler’s List to Son of Saul, and everything in between, and how, what to say. That was worth saying and interesting to us.

“That idea of this perpetrator perspective on this event and one that treated it from the point of view of the world of home and … work, rather than the perspective of the victim, which is typically the way, the Holocaust … is narrated.”

German actress Sandra Hüller in a scene from The Zone of Interest, also stars in courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall. Photo: AAP

Oscar field

The Zone of Interest has earned five Academy Award nominations and is up against Oppenheimer, Killers of the Flower Moon, Poor Things, The Holdovers, American Fiction, Maestro, Past Lives, Barbie and Anatomy of a Fall for best picture.

Wilson explains his research team spoke to scholars, historians and read witness testimonies at the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum in Poland with a view to compiling a profile of the Höss family and their daily lives.

” … probably the massive bulk of it is about the events and the atrocities and the mass murder and the plight and the fate of the victims of the violence, the prisoners,” he said.

“But we weren’t looking for that, because that wasn’t what the subject of our film is. The subject of our film is the perpetrator.

“We want to put the audience in the perspective of the perpetrators, of the Hösses … [there] would be testimonies from, prisoners who worked in the house, gardeners, the Polish maids”.


Jonathan Glazer and James Wilson at the 77th British Academy Film Awards. Photo: AAP

Wilson said the film was “without a doubt the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do work-wise” financing a German-language film about the Holocaust from a perpetrator perspective, in Poland, on the edge of the former concentration camp.

Despite no big stars and little dialogue, Newland says the film was a “triumph” for the BAFTAs, applauding its voting body’s “good sense at awarding what is clearly the finest – and most prescient – film of this year”.

Oscars finals voting opens on February 22 and closes on February 27

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